Picking up from where we left off in our first report from this year’s Wild & Scenic Environmental Film festival, water quality in the Central Valley was explored in Thirsty for Justice: The Struggle for the Human Right to Water. The results aren’t pretty. Decades of over-fertilization has let to potentially lethal levels of nitrates and other pollutants in the water supply of some communities, depriving them of “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water,” without discrimination, according to international law.
Trying to get that accepted in California proved to be a social struggle; first Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed it, and in the next session agribusiness interests prevented it from passing. It was finally made state policy under Gov. Brown, but implementing it remains challenging.
Social struggles continue in the story of the Rio Santiago in Guadalajara, where pollutants from an industrial park made possible by NAFTA literally kill residents in El Salto. Silent River won the Student Filmmaker Award, a powerful story of local resident Sofia Enciso, who chose to fight for the river’s health despite anonymous threats that led her and her family to flee El Salto for several months. The multinational corporations located in the industrial park include IBM, HP, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Honda and Nestlé, though co-director and journalist Steve Fisher is still researching specific companies that might be responsible for the pollutants.
Nobody’s River is an different kind of film, but pollution and international conflict again find their way into the narrative. Four young women set out to kayak the length of the last longest remaining undammed river in the world, the Amur – 4,400 kilometers from its source in Mongolia to its outflow on Russia’s Pacific coast. Their hope to float the length was stymied by the political difficulty of traversing the stretch that borders Russia with China, and ultimately cut short by the pollution and flooding of the Russian section below Khabarovsk. The young women are brimming with the brio of youth, and it’s impossible to watch their adventures, and antics, without falling a little bit in love.
Many of the films in the W&SFF are more about “action sports” than environment – like the ambitious kayakers in Nobody’s River, the rock climber in Drawn (which won a Jury Award), or the mountain-biking Marin County teens in Singletrack High. Most Inspiring Adventure Film was specifically about the birth of the rock climbing culture of Yosemite, the feature-length Valley Uprising. The topic was particularly keen on the weekend Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan.
Fracking was a hot topic at the Festival again this year as it was last, with an entire afternoon’s programing dedicated to the topic. Dear Governor Hickenlooper collected half-a-dozen shorter films about the practice in Colorado in an open letter to the pro-fracking governor, presented by Shane “The Fractivist” Davis. Dryden – The Small Town that Changed the Fracking Game was also featured, about the New York town that led that state’s recent ban on fracking altogether.
Pollutants in our daily life – seemingly everywhere, apparently unavoidable – were tackled in The Human Experiment, and as you might imagine the topic was frightening and motivating. It concerns the activists who labor against extreme odds and huge budgets to turn the tide on the thousands of untested chemicals in our products. Narrated and produced by Sean Penn, the film is enough to make you throw out every plastic bottle in your house, empty your household of cleansers and cosmetics, and take all your mattress to the dump, none of which is a bad idea.
More inspirational for all the right reasons was Racing to Zero, as comprehensive a look at zero waste technology as you could ask for. We follow garbage collectors and sorters, e-waste practices, plastic recycling factories and even Goodwill stores to find out what exactly happens to everything we throw away, all set in and around the city of San Francisco. Filmmakers on hand at the screening included producer Diana Fuller, director Christopher Beaver, and editor Maureen Gosling – whose long career includes many films with documentary pioneer Les Blank.
One more post of “mini-reviews” of the films at the 13th annual Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival will be coming soon! – Christian Kallen