Environmental Films That Have Made A Difference

By Garry Westmore

Each year Environmental Film Festival Australia showcases films that highlight environmental issues around the globe, from animal welfare to sustainable living, from climate change to food wastage. What sets EFFA apart from other film festivals is that it features films made not merely to entertain but to educate, illuminate and hopefully, make a difference. Many are activist films too, subtle calls to arms that invite a change of perspective.

But what happens after these films are screened? Do they have an impact, and can that impact be measured? Here are some recent documentaries (some of which have previously screened at EFFA) that have made an indelible mark on the causes they’ve championed.

Just Eat It

Just Eat It screened at EFFA 2015 and has opened many an eye to the large-scale food wastage seen in the United States and worldwide. The documentary follows director Grant Baldwin and producer/his partner Jenny Rustemeyer, as they quit grocery shopping and attempt to survive entirely on food set to be thrown out.

Through practicing food rescue, Baldwin and Rustemeyer uncover the massive scale of food wastage from homes, supermarkets and farms. Just Eat It was picked up to be screened by MSNBC in the United States late last year, and two years after its initial release it’s still raising awareness through screenings around the world. It helped put the issue of food wastage on the map, illustrating that if one puts their mind to it, they can subsist entirely on food that would otherwise end up in landfill. And finally, some action is being taken. In February this year France became the first country to make it unlawful for supermarkets to throw away or destroy unsold food. Food must now be donated to charities or food banks. In the United States, the EPA and Department of Agriculture late last year launched a plan to cut food waste by 50% over fifteen years. Hopefully change is in the air and Just Eat It can continue to sway public opinion on the issue.

Those interested in the cause can keep with relevant news and join the conversation over at the Just Eat it website.

Just Eat It. Image: provided.

Just Eat It. Image: provided.

Gasland

Josh Fox’s original Gasland documentary exposed the devastating environmental effects of procuring gas the ‘natural’ way. It shocked audiences who were largely ignorant of the fracking process and believed natural gas to be a cleaner alternative to oil or other ‘dirtier’ fossil fuels.

The United States was (and still is) rife with fracking, a process in which countless chemicals are injected into the earth to force open fissures so gas can be extracted. These chemicals often find their way into water sources, both subterranean and flowing, polluting them and often making them flammable.

Though Gasland hasn’t completely stopped the practice of fracking, it has certainly raised a great deal of awareness. Gasland was nominated for an Academy Award, and gave Fox the opportunity to make a follow up in Gasland II, which screened at EFFA 2014. Tracking the issue as it began being debated at higher levels of government in the U.S, Fox’s films have also helped galvanise grass roots campaigns, with the film’s website a place where many can continue to fight the good fight (it has over one million subscribers). Fracking is not a great unknown anymore, with communities and governments more aware of its dangers.  Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently announced the ban of fracking in the State of Victoria, and we could in part thank Josh Fox for bringing the issue into the public consciousness.

Gasland. Image: HBO.

Gasland. Image: HBO.

Blackfish

As far as animal rights films go, Blackfish is enthralling in that it plays out like a psychological thriller. The documentary explores the detrimental affects of captivity on animals through Tilikum, a Killer whale (or Orca) captured in 1983 and trained as a performing whale for SeaWorld, Orlando. Tilikum would end up being involved in the deaths of three people whilst at Sealand (Canada) and SeaWorld, indicative it would suggest, of psychological effect of capture and captivity. The film sought to call into question not only the capturing of Killer whales, but also breeding in captivity. Following the film’s release and acclaim, Californian regulators banned SeaWorld San Diego from breeding Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s overall attendance and stock price fell.

Blackfish forced many to question the ethics of killer whale performances, an activity that was seemingly overlooked despite society’s growing distaste for forced animal performance. Now, the popularity of these performances are dropping as people become more aware that they come at a great cost to the animal’s psychological state. Hopefully soon SeaWorld’s biggest drawcard will become a thing of the past.

An Inconvenient Truth

Perhaps the most high profile of all environmental films, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came along at a time when a lot was being said about global warming, but not much being was done. Perhaps not as much has changed as many of us would like, but An Inconvenient Truth took what to many was a murky, complicated issue, and presented it in easy to understand terms. At the same time, Gore shocked audiences with the grim realities of global warming. The fact that these inconvenient truths were presented by a prominent politician who very nearly became U.S president perhaps made it even more impactful – because politicians, successful ones at least, usually stay well clear of taking strong stances in the fight against global warming.

The film helped bring many more people into the discussion of global warming, and served as a powerful retort to droll arguments rolled out by climate change sceptics. Although the film is essentially a filmed speech (albeit one with a nifty power point presentation), An Inconvenient Truth cleverly mixes in imagery and narration from Gore’s life and history to establish his deep personal connection with nature, reminding us all what is at stake as individuals, and as a collective.


Garry Westmore is a Melbourne-based writer, educator, screenwriter and editor.