SF Green Film Fest portrays varying perspectives on environmental issues

uranium
ReelThing Films/Courtesy

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“Uranium Drive-In”

“Uranium Drive-In” provides an intimate look into the happenings of the small town of Naturita, Colorado, after it is announced that the corporate conglomerate Energy Fuels will open the first operational uranium mill in 30 years. The announcement’s fallout brings the town’s environmental conservation efforts and blue-collar working force out to duke it out at town halls and picket lines like it’s nuclear war.

Director Suzan Beraza skillfully navigates behind the scenes to present the cases for both arguments: Uranium is a highly dangerous substance that had resulted in the bulldozing of a town nearby decades ago, but an operational mill would bring much-needed jobs to the economically depressed area.

In the process of examining both sides, the film serves up an impressive lesson in uranium mining and the effects of nuclear energy. The colorful protesters and campaigns encouraging the destruction of the proposed building of the mill may remind Berkeley viewers that idealism isn’t isolated to the Bay Area.

It couldn’t be timelier with the recent legislation aimed at cutting down carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Beraza explores the negative stigma of nuclear fuel and whether or not it’s entirely justified. Rustic photography and subtle reflection on Colorado’s stunning topography fill in the gaps when the documentary’s somewhat stagnant narrative begins to lag.

In the end, it is the reopening of the town’s Uranium Drive-In movie theater that supplies the perfect metaphor for the blend of 1950s Atomic Age awe and Midwest Americana that Beraza seems determined to convey. This sentimental lens doesn’t distract, however, from the relevancy of the town’s dilemma. Beraza knows how to keep an audience engaged through the ins and outs of an environmental issue — by focusing instead on the people it affects.

—Ryan Koehn

 

“Seeds of Time”

Climate change is now a sociopolitical battlefield that will define how humans interact with the Earth for the foreseeable future. Discussions around the subject, including President Obama’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 don’t account for an immediate threat to populations around the world: the crops that humans have poured money, time and energy into for tens of thousands of years.

Seeds of Time,” directed by Sandy Mcleod, focuses on “the biological units of agriculture:” the seeds that feed the world, seen through the eyes of crop diversity scientist Cary Fowler. Fowler is the former director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a Rome-based organization that advocates genetic diversity for the world’s major crops. Mcleod follows Fowler as he visits seed banks around the world — including the Svalbard Seed Bank in Norway — and talks with other crop diversity specialists about the importance of maintaining agricultural knowledge in the face of climate change for future generations.

From multinational seed banks to smaller-scale seed exchanges in America and “potato parks” high in the Peruvian Andes, Mcleod and Fowler highlight the pressure on not only scientists but also governments that, given current climate trends, may face sociopolitical unrest as a result of food shortages.

While “Seeds of Time” paints a clear picture of Fowler’s work and the need for multigovernmental collaboration for a solution, Mcleod jumps from subject to subject too rapidly for the viewer to get a grasp of what was just shot. But the message is clear: Agricultural diversity helped shape the world we have today and must be preserved. This may have gotten slightly lost in the film’s presentation, but the importance of biodiversity remains.

—Youssef Shokry

 

“Project Wild Thing”

There is a growing fear of the outdoors. As a child, British father David Bond loved getting his hands dirty. His children, however, don’t hold nature in the same regard, and he is afraid this unhealthy lifestyle will contribute to the rising rates of obesity and clinical depression. Pushing more and more children to stay indoors, advertisements alongside the progression of digital communication technology have become one of the largest factors of social influence. In “Project Wild Thing,” Bond names himself the marketing director of nature: “We have sold everything under the sun; now it is time to sell the sun itself.”

“Project Wild Thing” is a social movement, not simply a documentary. It is Bond’s journey in crafting nature as a product to be sold. The film is a mixture of digital animation and documentary-esque guerilla filmmaking. The storyline assumes the audience understands the backstory as to why technology is ruining society’s future, concentrating on Bond’s journey as he develops his “product” — avoiding statistical research and professional testimony on nature itself. Instead, Bond uses businesslike mannerisms and creates a team to draft a quirky advertising campaign that aims to attract kids to play outside. Through apps, viral videos and billboards, Bond attempts to a solve a problem that has become increasingly problematic over the past decade.

The film is ambitious and wildly playful. It is not a source of information for those seeking to learn about the effects of technology on children, and it does not actively promote a healthy lifestyle. Rather, this film is about Project Wild Thing and Bond’s progress promoting his product: nature. It is a mixture of brand consultants and market surveys; it is nature focused, but it is not as green as it claims itself to be.

—Brett Tanonaka

 

“Mondo Banana”

Bananas: yellow, squishy, tangy and sweet. Gifted with a protective outer shell, bananas closely resemble the complexity of humans, as the outside physical layer covers the true essence, soft and vulnerable on the inside. From communicating with an evil banana spirit to cleaning with a banana peel and wearing a hand of bananas as a hat, people around the world oddly use the fruit as more than just a source of potassium. “Mondo Banana” is an adventure-filled documentary that peels away the layers between the complex yet unrecognized relationship between humans and bananas. Director Ryan White travels through Finland, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, India and Japan to explore the cultural and environmental lifestyle surrounding the use of bananas.

Supported by a crowdfunding effort on Kickstarter, the film recently claimed the award for Most Original Treatment of an Environmental Theme at the Cinema Planeta 2014, Mexico’s environmental film festival. White details his interactions with taxonomists, chefs and exorcists alike, showcasing their research and ancestral treatment of the fruit. He delves into sobering issues, such as banana immigration and deforestation, through interviews with a Finnish taxonomist in West Sumatra, Indonesia, and farmers in China. The documentary also introduces research behind religious ideas such as the banana possibly being the apple of paradise. The film’s website not only is home to the documentary but also acts a blog that White has been updating since the initial filming in 2010.

To some, bananas may be simply another fruit, but to others, it embodies folklore and cultural significance, a commodity that should not be taken for granted. “Mondo Banana” is not a typical point-and-shoot documentary filled with obscure or saddening stories. It is a fun and intriguing glimpse into the world of bananas, a token of appreciation and an ode to the beloved fruit. It begs the question: What do you know about bananas?

—Brett Tanonaka

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