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American Women's Club of Hamburg

What on Earth?

Hamburg was chosen as European Green Capital 2011 by the European Commission so Filmfest Hamburg featured ten documentary films concerning environmental issues in the section Three Colors Green (Drei Farben Grün) in cooperation with the Behörde für Stadtentwickling und Umwelt. Have you heard about bees disappearing by the thousands? What about entire communities finding their homelands under water? Are all those pesticides and fertilizers really necessary to grow crops or raise yields? Is a new manufacturing plant really progress for a small town? Do we need crosswalks and sidewalks in our cities since everyone drives everywhere anyway? The films in this section provide fertile fodder for thoughts on how the human race affects Mother Earth and just what on earth is happening to our planet.

Millions of honey bees have disappeared from their hives, never to return. Beekeepers have returned to where they left hives to pollinate fruit trees or other plants and found every hive abandoned resulting in financial loss and in some cases the emotional devastation of potentially losing the family business. This mysterious kill, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has hit more than half of the beekeepers across the United States and could impact food yields.
Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell capture the essence of beekeeping by following several interesting and at times entertaining beekeepers. David Mendes trucks hives across the U.S. for seasonal pollinations. Lance and Victor Seppi rent their bee hives to almond growers. Large or small, everyone in the beekeeping community is concerned about the collapse crisis. Mendes decides that the beekeepers must organize and demand help to identify the cause of the collapses. New pesticides are suspected. The Seppis renegotiate beehive rental contracts to try and survive the double devastation of Colony Collapse Disorder and a national economic collapse. This fascinating film reveals where and how they work and a bit about how they live, with some down home philosophy. Lance Seppi sums up beekeeping so: “It’s about taking care of the hives so that they can take care of you.” Maybe there is a lesson there that also applies to Mother Earth that the rest of us need to learn. ()

A Different Path
This documentary portrays Richard Dyksterhuis, Cleta Hughes and Michael Luis Johnson who deal with the unpleasant aspects of modern automobile-centric traffic planning in their own special ways. Need a sidewalk in front of your building? Convince the city government to build one. Still waiting for those bike lanes? Paint them on the streets yourself.
Fed up with traffic jams? Simply canoe to work - if you can.

It’s refreshing to see the people in the movie overcome some of the problems they’re confronted with in their respective urban environments – in Seattle, Toronto and New York. Consequently, I would have liked more information on the problems and possible solutions instead of having to listen to commonplace statements like, “Many drops become an ocean” or watching one of the activists shave. All in all, I found there were too many scenes which didn't seem meaningful in the context of the movie. The shaky camera wasn’t exactly viewer-friendly either.

Director Monteith McCollum is an independent filmmaker, musician and educator. One of his earlier films, Hybrid, was shown on ARTE and received the New York Foundation for the Arts Prize. ()

Iceland is a country of astonishing beauty. The country produces more than enough energy for its inhabitants and has an abundance of food products. And yet, the government decided it would be best to embark upon a full-scale plundering of all natural resources. Based on director Andri Snaer Magnason’s book Dreamland: a Self Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, this film shows how government succumbed to multinational mining corporations and hydro-electric companies which seduced politicians into believing that a failure to exploit Iceland’s natural resources is willful waste and neglect - when there is so much money to be made. As a result Alcoa, a Canadian aluminium manufacturer, has mounted an industrial takeover of the entire country.

Iceland catches about 1% of fish worldwide, produces enough meat and milk for its population and has a huge tourist trade. Businesses and homes use 100% renewable energy. So Magnason questions whether the country needed industrial development at all and the film documents the consequences of feeding corporate greed. He explains: “Iceland sacrificed two large rivers to Alcoa. Our government sold them cheap energy and doubled the energy production of Iceland - just to meet Alcoa's needs. Alcoa needs enormous power - about four times more energy than the whole nation uses. Although Alcoa briefly helped lead a spike in Iceland's economy, global aluminium prices dropped dramatically in 2008. At the same time, Iceland had to declare bankruptcy after its private banks failed to restructure and pay back enormous debt loads. Many believe our only hope is building more dams for Alcoa.” There are plans to build even more Alcoa plants in small villages throughout Iceland causing further devastation to an extraordinary landscape and destroying fertile farms. Politicians think people outside the country who have never seen the waterfalls, canyons and thermal springs have no business interfering in their bargain basement sale of such resources. A nation gone wrong or ecovangelists on a rampage? You decide. ()

Dreamland - A Second Opinion
The documentary Dreamland not only terrifyingly conveys the reality of man’s use of the natural resources at the expense of nature, but also the potential danger and impacts that it could have if not properly maintained. Looking at the headlines this week reveals an indication of this truth as red sludge spreads into the Danube in Hungary, killing people and contaminating areas that it comes into contact with. This seeping toxic sludge is a waste product from aluminium production, which reminds us that in Dreamland they also built an aluminium factory. I hope directors Orfinnur Gudnason and Andri Snaer Magnason are planning their next documentary for their politicians to watch. Especially since they filmed one politician quoting that “if nature can’t change things, why can’t we humans do it?” ()

Foreign Parts
If you like to see auto salvage being schlepped hither and fro, incessantly, this is the film for you. Interspersed is footage of some of the residents of the scrap-yard at Willets Point, Queens, New York but you have to pay attention to hear their sad stories. Production values are O.K. although they overuse the “camera leads audience” technique. We hear the urban renewal victims’ voices (redevelopment was approved in 2008) loudest under the end credits, but by then anyone left in the audience does not care. Shame on the filmmakers, Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, that they did not do justice for their protagonists. ()

Foreign Parts - A Second Opinion
Behind the Mets’ new baseball stadium in Queens, New York lays a strange area filled with car repair shops and scrap metal dumps. Here a mixture of people lives hand to mouth, on the fringes of society but in harmony with each other. They are united in a common cause to improve their lot. They speak directly into the camera about their mission to improve the area and their lives. Some of them visit City Hall in an attempt to find out about the plans to improve the area. One woman welcomes her hapless man as he leaves prison and another begs shamelessly from her neighbours and spends the money they give her on alcohol. Everybody remains cheerful and confident that life will improve.

Co-director Verena Paravel is an anthropologist which may explain why she chose to shine a light on people living on the fringes of society. She and J.P. Sniadecki have documented a slice of modern American life taking place in the shadows. Americans are optimistic of course and their documentary ends with news from City Hall, which is almost too good to be true. ()

There Once was an Island
Actually, the islands in question still exist, though maybe not for long.
Takuu atoll is part of the autonomous Region of Bougainville which belongs to Papua New Guinea. The atoll is the home of a culturally unique Polynesian community which experiences the first impact of global warming and climate change: coastal erosion, flooding and salt water in the gardens.

The people of Takuu build seawalls and discuss different options for the future. Should they leave their home, which would almost certainly mean losing their culture, or is there still a chance to save Takuu? At the community’s request, two scientists, oceanographer John Hunter and geomorphologist Scott Smithers study the situation and outline several possible solutions. Unfortunately though, every option which would make a difference in the long run costs money, and neither community nor government have the necessary financial means.

It took director Briar March and producer Lyn Collie four years to make this beautiful, informative and moving vérité-style film which has already won several awards, including the Grand Prize at FIFO (Pacific International Documentary Film Festival). Watch it if you get the chance! A short trailer is available on www.thereoncewasanisland.com. ()

Think Global –Act Rural (Solutions locales pour un désordre global)
Called Good Food, Bad Food by Filmfest Hamburg, director Coline Serreau said that this is an inappropriate title. In her film she addresses local solutions for the global challenge of feeding the world. She wants to show that literally returning to our roots, letting the women control farming as was their traditional role and using organic methods can address many environmental issues we face today. Serreau highlights the importance of seeds and the near monopoly held on seed production and distribution by companies like Monsanto along with the influence of the US after World War II on fertilizers and pesticides. She interviews Claude Bourguignon, the co-founder of Laboratory of Soil Microbiological Analyses in France and Vandana Shiva who operates an experimental organic farm in India. Solutions already exist and Serreau wants to get the word out: “It is time to hear what farmers, philosophers and economists have to say. While explaining why our social model has got bogged down in the ecological, financial, and political crises that we all know about, these people invent and try out alternatives.” ()

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