“The environment is everyone’s business,” says documentary filmmaker Shridhar Sudhir, and few would disagree. Speaking to us ahead of the second edition of the All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF), where his 2021 documentary, Moving Upstream: Ganga , will be screened, he says this is an event that ‘engages the public on the environment and social issues of our time’.
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Contrary to the Ganga’s stereotypical association with religion, often the central focus of films on the subject, his film traces Siddharth Agarwal’s (an aerospace engineer from IIT, Kharagpur) 3,000-kilometre walk from Ganga Sagar in West Bengal to Gangotri, the source of the river. “It was not about looking at the Ganga in isolation,” says Sudhir, adding, “The exclusivity that the paradigms of religion, spirituality and mythology lend to the river makes it the perfect segue into the plights that plague all rivers. In fact, a good case is made for all other rivers when one understands how harshly the narratives of development and urbanisation treat the ‘holiest’ of them.”
Of climate change and students
Other Indian titles at the virtual ALT EFF 2021 — set to feature 44 films from 31 countries across 10 categories — include For the Stripes , Elephants in my Backyard and Coral Woman , among others. Festival director and co-founder, Kunal Khanna, says the festival opened for submissions in March and the final programme was decided on July 31. “During these 4.5 months, our programming team watched close to 130 submissions,” he says, sharing popular themes included climate change, biodiversity, food systems, conservation and social justice.
The films were selected based on their “originality, emotional impact, relevance, and production quality”, continues Khanna, whose picks for this year are American documentaries YOUTH v GOV , To Which We Belong , and Moti Bagh from India.
- The story of an extraordinary revolution against the colonial system led by the indigenous communities of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Berman says the conflict was the biggest armed conflict of the Pacific region since the Second World War. “What is most inspiring is the extraordinary resilience and creativity of the people of Bougainville, who now have the opportunity to perhaps offer an alternative to the world, departing from a model of systematic exploitation of the environment, and finding a new balance that humanity could benefit from,” says co-director Pollet, who worked with the communities for over seven years.
Addressing the newly-launched ‘Student Films’ category, he says the aim was to encourage youngsters to “seek out and bring to the fore said conversations, and in turn inspire to weave these discussions into mainstream cinema through their careers in film and storytelling”.
One of ALT EFF’s aims is to highlight not just stories of hope, but how humans are tackling the problem at hand with innovations. “India especially lacks opportunities for young filmmakers covering the environmental theme and we aim to fill this gap with the new section,” he says. Next year, they aim to achieve their original vision of a physical festival in the heart of the biodiverse Western Ghats, adds co-founder Neha Shrestha.
What comes after
A refreshing addition to India’s cinematic festival landscape that usually promotes commercial films or art-oriented projects, ALT EFF is a good platform to bring about environmental consciousness. “The goal is to do more than to make pretty pictures — to drive meaningful change,” says Micheal Snyder, international award-winning photographer and filmmaker, who is on the jury this year.
Looking forward to Moti Bagh , Fat Kathy , and The Last Hop(e) , he says virtual film festivals pose an amazing opportunity to reach audiences all over the world. “I am excited for what comes after the films: what people do and say next, as it is these conversations and actions that are the critical component of environmental filmmaking.”
Snyder, who has directed films in the Arctic, the Amazon, and the Himalayas, and East Africa, believes in the power of storytelling to drive impact around environmental issues. “As they [eco-issues] are often very abstract and seemingly impersonal, we have to find a way to make them personal. Filmmaking, particularly one that focusses on the story of a character who is directly dealing with these issues, has the potential to do this in a way that few other art forms can,” he concludes.
ALT EFF is on from October 9-17 at alteff.in.