Sundance Goes Green?
Sundance has had a green streak for a long time. It goes deeper than the new line of organic cotton festival wear, and the reliable influx of hybrid vehicles into town for the week. Films like An Inconvenient Truth, Blue Vinyl, Everything’s Cool, The Unforeseen, Who Killed the Electric Car, Fields of Fuel, Flow, Manufactured Landscapse, Up the Yangtze all premiered at Sundance over the last few years and all focus heavily on themes of environmental change and of connections between people and their environments. The festival’s related commitment to Native American stories goes back to its beginnings.
I always pay close attention to such films because of my involvement with Eckerd College’s “Visions of Nature, Voices of Nature,” Environmental Film Festival, that I have co-directed along with its founder Cathy Griggs for the past three years, and that began as a Native American film festival. For several years, we have tried to supplement the February lineup with at least one film that had just shown for the first time at Sundance. Last year it was Up the Yangtze and The Unforeseen (which played Sundance in 2007), and before that we screened Everything’s Cool. It goes beyond documentary. We have also screened fictional feature films from Sundance, films in which place plays a prominent role, such as Chris Eyre’s Edge of America, Jake Mahaffy’s War, and Kevin Wilmott’s CSA: Confederate States of America. (Kevin Wilmott is back again this year, with a western that I discuss below). We’ll see whether we can manage to pull it off again this year.
There are lots to choose from. This year Sundance features one of its strongest recent lineups of green-themed films, including the closing film of the festival, Earth Days, that recounts the rise of the modern environmental movement in America through the eyes of several of its most influential leaders. There will also be a special presentation entitled Brave New Voices Speak Green, in which young urban kids from Youth Speaks wax poetic on environmental issues that affect them directly, in the midst of cities without trees.
Other environmental documentaries include:
Dirt! The Movie - directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow. Based on William Bryant Logan’s celebrated book Dirt, the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, Dirt! The Movie, offers an energetic exploration of our relationship with the soil beneath our feet.
The Cove, directed by Louie Psihoyos. The worldwide fascination with dolphins has, ironically, become a multibillion dollar industry that threatens their existence. The largest supplier of dolphins in the world is based in a small cove near Taijii, Japan. The practices of this company, however, are highly secretive and a brave group of activists, led by the most famous dolphin trainer in the world, devise a plan to infiltrate the cove. They uncover, in the process, a horrifying secret.
No Impact Man, dir. by Laura Gabbert & Justin Schein. When author Colin Beaven got the idea to write a book about the impact of our lifestyles on the environment and climate, he thought he’d go all the way: for one year he and his family would try to make zero impact on the world and see what impact that had on their level of happiness.
Crude, dir. by Joe Berlinger. Tells the story of the infamous “Amazon Chernobyl” case, in which 30,000 plaintiffs from five indigenous Ecuadorian tribes attempted to sue Chevron for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The Yes Men Fix the World, directed by Andy Birchlbaum and Mike Bonanno. The Yes Men are back at it, sneaking into corporate events disguised as captains of industry, using their momentary authority to expose corporate criminality. This time they are focused on manmade disasters, such as profiteering after Hurricane Katrina and the environmental disaster in Bhopal.
The End of the Line, dir. by Rupert Murray. Explores the devastating effects of overfishing on the health of our oceans. Director Rupert Murray crosses the globe, seeking out the many causal factors and possible solutions to the environmental devastation taking place in the sea.
Beekeepers, dir. by Richard Robinson. A short experimental documentary film, exploring the mystery behind the death of bees across the world.
Here’s a fiction film that might fit the bill:
Manure, directed by the Polish Brothers (Twin Falls Idaho, Northfork, The Astronaut Farmer). After her father dies, estranged daughter Rosemary attempts to take over the reins of the family’s manure company — but a ruthless and slick fertilizer rep is plotting a takeover. There’s bound to be some kind of environmental connection here - and the Polish Brothers never disappoint.
As usual, this year’s lineup includes a number of intriguing documentary and feature fiction films that address Native American themes:
Wounded Knee, dir. by Stanley Nelson. Develops an immersive, comprehensive account of the 1973 protest occupation of Wounded Knee by 200 armed Oglala Lakota, let by American Indian Movement activists.
Barking Water, directed by Sterlin Harjo. A redemptive road trip through Oklahoma as seen by contemporary Native Americans.
Before Tomorrow, dir. by Madeline Piujug Ivalu and Marie-Hélène Cousineau. In the middle of the nineteenth century, as Europeans encroach upon their territory, Inuit tribes continued to live as they had always done. Unexpected circumstances leave two elder women and a young boy trapped on an island as winter approaches.
The Only Good Indian, directed by Kevin Wilmott. A revisionist western, about a young Native American boy who is taken from his home and forced to assimilate in a white Christian boarding school. He escapes only to be recaptured by another Indian who hopes to return him for a bounty.