Gold Fever — the must-see documentary of the year

10 07 2013

Last term, I blogged about Goldcorp’s influence on the campus of UBC. I knew they were baddies and have infringed on human rights in Latin America. So I when I saw that the Vancity Theatre was going to be screening a documentary called Gold Fever, about Goldcorp and the mining industry in Guatemala, I knew I had to catch it.

Well, I saw it tonight and let me just say this: I don’t usually cry watching documentaries. But this one got me crying in a few places, particularly when the brave women in the small village of San Miguel retold their stories of coercion and violence against them from the Montana Mine and corrupt government officials. After watching this fantastic documentary, it really makes me ashamed to be at an institution that agreed to accept the money of such a barbaric, inhumane corporation. It’s disgusting, it’s sad, and it’s pathetic. It also made me depressed, to see such evil subjected to other members of our species because of greed. Is there hope in this issue? The film certainly didn’t seem to think so, but who knows.

While the film itself may not be perfect, the information and the stories of the real people in this film need to be told and heard. If you’re going to watch any documentary that will change how you think about how your own personal impact in the world, if you plan on watching any doc this year, I cannot recommend watching Gold Fever more. In fact, everyone should make it a priority to watch this.


22 04 2013

Similar to the informative and very cool Clean Bin Project, Trashed is a documentary about garbage — literally. Unlike the former, however, Trashed goes into depth about the many toxins and chemicals that kill, mutate, and harm both our species and the planet because of our glorious waste. Shot after shot of mountains of garbage, it’s truly a sad sight to see.

This is the kind of thing I want to avoid. This is partly why I try to live as close to Zero Waste as I possibly can. Yet, telling people about the dangers of this — any sort of social change, really — is so difficult. I can’t even convince my own mother to stop buying plastic-wrapped buns from the local Chinese bakery despite giving her alternatives, such as paper bags. Many people don’t realize just how harmful plastic is; they think it’s simply that it leaches chemicals over time, but it’s much more than that. Plastic in the ocean breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it doesn’t really go away. It creates toxicity in the water. Sea animals also eat the plastic and absorb toxins. And of course, we eat these animals too.

I want to develop a workshop, similar to what SPEC does in their workshops, and present it to my family, then to friends, then to my community and neighbourhood. I want to change the world now.

There’s a part in the movie where one of the interviewees wistfully notes what a change it would be if the entire world cut down on their waste, if they resorted to properly disposing of it instead of sending it off to landfills or incinerators, how the toxins would go down, how much healthier people would be — and the cynic, and sadly, the realist in me thought, “There’s no way that could ever happen.”

But dammit, if I’m not gonna try.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

9 02 2013

It`s been quite a while since I last watched a documentary on Saturday morning, mostly because I always find myself having things to do and write on the weekend because of school.  With some time to spare, I was finally able to open my Documentaries folder and take a look at one of the movies that have been waiting patiently.  I remember when Eco Pirate played at Fifth Ave.  Hardly anyone went to see it, unfortunately, and we only screened it for a week.  It`s a good documentary, and director Trish Dolman isn`t afraid to show some very disturbing, graphic images, like whales being harpooned and killed, and even more terrifying and unexpected, baby seals getting bludgeoned in the Arctic.  But it`s moments like these, this uncensored look at what Paul and the rest of his followers really believe in stopping.  It`s the ugly truth of what goes on in the world, and people, as Paul says, are ”stupid”.  What some people believe to be eco-terrorism, this film examines the injustice of nations who proceed with illegal activity or in some cases, like Japan, blatantly lie about their whaling purposes (they call it ”research” yet others point out that you don`t need to kill whales to study them), Watson looks more and more reasonable in his actions.  He and his crew throw stink bombs onto other boats, clog their waste outlets (ie. the holes near the bottom of the ships where blood from whales pours out), and sometimes even ram the ships, all in the name of protecting animals and the environment.

If you have the stomach and eyes for watching animals getting killed a bit, then I would recommend this documentary.  It may be a little long, but the entire film is a well-made and fascinating portrait of a man willing to make the change no one else will do.

Andrew Marr’s Megacities

24 06 2012

At last: a documentary series about the world’s largest metropolises.  This three one-hour documentary series, yet another high-budget production from the BBC, narrator and host Andrew Mars takes viewers around the world at a look at various megacities — cities with populations of over 10 million people — and their influence on the world.  From obvious cities like London and Shanghai, to poorer cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, the series examines everything from buildings, to garbage and consumption, to crime in the usual dramatic, heightened BBC-produced way.

The music is, right off the bat, loud and overdramatic, as if trying to convey some sort of tension or drama in the series, which I guess should be the case in any series or program, but there really isn’t anything dramatic here.  Yes, these cities are large; yes, different cities do different things.  It’s how people react and why/how people do the things they do that, for me, is interesting.  The sewage treatment in Mexico City, for example, is a big open canal where sewage workers occasionally find dead bodies in.  That in and of itself is frightening, and when paired with the visual of the floating garbage and waste in the lake, as well as Mars’s narration that there isn’t really a bottom for workers to walk on — just a meter of unidentifiable trash — even without the boisterous soundtrack, the scene speaks for itself.

Far too often, cities are given numbers and statstics that don’t accurately put a face on the actual living situation.  The best thing aboutMegacitiesis that, well, we actually get to see the megacities in all their chaotic action.  And as Mars concludes in the final episode, the problems faced by the megacities, such as food shortages, is not just the individual cities’ problem, but a global problem.  As he suggests, perhaps looking back in the past to farming techniques, for example, are the key to relieving the burden and demand placed on some of the most important and influential places on Earth.

Andrew Mars is amazed at the speed of the Shanghai Mag-Lev.

Saturday Morning Documentary: If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

20 03 2012

When I hear the term “eco-terrorism”, I can’t help but laugh.  It’s a word that seems like such an oxymoron that I don’t take it seriously because the meanest thing I have seen environmental protesters do is to block roads by sitting on them, or chaining themselves to trees so prevent them from being cut down.  This eco-terrorism is nothing compared to, for example, the terrorists connected to 9/11.  Right?

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a documentary by Marshall Curry (who also did the fantastic documentary Street Fight) which examines a so-called eco-terrorist group called the ELF.  Founded in Eugene, Oregon, the film follows one of the ex-members, Daniel McGowen, as he first waits out his home arrest time and then his legal proceedings.  From there, Curry intersperses interviews with McGowen and a few other ex-members of the ELF about the beginnings of the group, and some of their plans, including the arson of a slaughterhouse for horses.  A lot of people on the boards on imdb have commented how remarkably balanced the film is: it also features interviews of the company owners of the burned buildings, an ex-police chief who had to deal with “violent” protesters, which is cleverly juxtaposed with archival footage of police beating and attacking quite peaceful protesters, including deliberately pepperspraying some people simply doing a sit-in.  “You can’t help but take it personal when someone throws a rock at you,” says the police chief, as the officers smear pepperspray into screaming protesters– both in pain, and at the authorities for doing such an unwarranted act.  Through explanations as to why the ELF began doing the things they did, mainly out of frustration that nothing was being done through the peaceful ways they had always been doing, the film really does a good job at creating sympathy then for McGowen and the possibility that he will spend the rest of his life not just in jail, but in a special jail created for terrorists (created after 9/11).

There are some very affecting moments in the film, and I do wish that this film was more widely known/distributed.  It did manage to get nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, which always helps. I think Curry knows what a good documentary is all about, and I wouldn’t doubt that he’ll get his Oscar one of these days.  Though not a flawless film, If a Tree Falls handles a tricky and controversial subject that, ultimately, has its roots in something deeper: as Daniel McGowen puts it in the film, if no one hears you screaming, what’re you supposed to do?

The ELF graffiti some words after an arson.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Human Planet

14 02 2012

It’s been so long since I’ve done one of these and I haven’t really been keeping up with my documentaries,  but since these files keep sitting on my computer, waiting to be deleted, I might as well write about them.  Yet another well-produced BBC documentary series, Human Planet explores eight different terrains across the globe– from Oceans, to Jungles, to, surprisingly, Cities, all through a human lens and humanity’s impact and adaptability throughout the world.  Narrated by John Hurt, it seems the series’s goal is to highlight human ingenuity in a time when it is so easy to blame and criticize ourselves (think: global warming, landfills, war, our fascination of the Kardashians).  In many ways, Human Planet more than achieves this goal: as the series shows, humans are willing to walk towards lions to get freshly killed meat, live in high altitudes and train eagles to catch prey, and as a community, work together to save an ancient building by covering it with mud.  Yes, we have lots of potential to do great and wonderful things.

One of the things that bugged me about this series is the cinematography.  It’s very well-shot– almost too well-shot.  Perhaps I’m just used to watching documentaries that feel more spontaneous, less technical and less set-up.  There are shots were the human subjects stare off wistfully into the distance, as if asked by the British crew to do so, or, for example, shots of the villagers chasing monkeys in the jungle, and the camera just so happens to be on the ground floor, capturing their feet as they run past.  It’s shot as if it were a feature film, at a variety of angles, and for me, it made me do a double-take.  However, other scenes, like following a man as he walks across a river on a rope, is shot so well and beautifully that it doesn’t draw attention to it.

Although not as entertaining and awe-inspiring as Life or Planet Earth, Human Planet follows the trend of well-made BBC productions.

Annual fishing in Lake Antogo

Saturday Morning Documentary: Secrets of the Superbrands

10 09 2011

This may already be obvious, but most people realize that their everday lives are infiltrated by superbrands but to what extent?  Are we aware that everything we wear comes from a corporation?  Do we see that a lot of the food we buy and that nourishes our bodies is made from a big factory somewhere?

A three-episode series, Secrets of the Superbrands, hosted by Alex Riley, comically explores the mega corporations and their secret hold on the world, influencing us from food to fashion to technology.  Riley is the perfect host for the series– casual and funny but at the same time, curious and driven to finding out more about these companies.  From Starbucks to Apple, Riley explores the powers and the control the superbrands have on people, but also, and perhaps more importantly, peoples’ reactions and relationships to these brands.  In all three episodes, there’s a part in which people go under an MRI machine and images flash on a screen while the machine reads their brain activity, which is then interpreted; the results are pretty astounding, I must say.

What I really like about the series is that neither Riley nor the show tries to impose a certain thought about the superbrands, even after their findings.  Even after the bizarre seemingly ritual that takes place upon Mac store openings that involve massive crowds and immense cheering from store employees, it’s up to the audience to think about it (ie. What a bunch of lunatics Mac lovers are).

Alex (left) investigating at the Adidas store

Saturday Morning Documentary: Sound and Fury

29 07 2011

“If you could make your deaf children hear, would you do it?”  That’s the tagline and the question posed in the 2000 documentary Sound and Fury.  Though the choice may seem clear at first, the film explores the complex questions that also arise when deaf children have the opportunity for cochlear implants that would allow them to hear like regular hearing kids.  Two sets of parents who both have kids are both contemplating the implants– one thinking yes and the other on the fence– and debates and arguments ensue.

“If your child was blind, wouldn’t you want them to see?” asks the mother who is for the surgery, and it’s a convincing argument.  She argues that it would be a setback for her child if he were to be deaf, that he would be missing out on so much in the world like music, the sound of rain; other aspects of life, like finding a job, would also be a lot harder, she says.  On the other hand, the mother who is investigating both sides of the situation says that by giving her child an implant, they would be missing out on deaf culture and may not learn and use sign with other deaf people, and that the deaf world and culture may be wiped out completely if all deaf people were given implants.  “I’m proud to be deaf,” says her husband, and you see from the way he signs that he really means it.

I don’t think I’ve seen a documentary on deafness before but this was really insightful.  It did seem a little outdated with the choice of music and the way it was shot but the film was pretty interesting nonetheless.  A provocative film about a sense that most people take for granted.

Saturday Morning Documentary: Nova ScienceNow

8 07 2011

Hosted by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (who has appeared on other shows the Colbert Report Nova ScienceNow is a mix of typical informational PBS documentary series and kid’s show — if a little older.  A show like Nova can be super informational but at the same time, super serious to the point where learning becomes boring.  What Nova ScienceNow tries to do is have an intelligent, charming host + green screen cheesy graphics and animations + simple, easy to understand segments and instantly, the show becomes a lot more accessible, and, in essence, a lot more fun to watch.

I’ve only seen one season of the show but each episode is focused on a question; ie. Episode one asks, “Can we make it to Mars?”.  From there, the hour long episode is divided into various segments that explore the question.  Researchers go into the field, interviewing scientists and experts alike.  What I like about the show is that sometimes, the show attempts to try and get to actually know the researchers rather than interview them because their smart and that they’ll say intelligent things.  For instance, in the last episode, titled “What’s the Next Big Thing?”, one segment focuses on a scientist Jay Keasling, who is developing biofuels from bacteria that would hopefully replace oil in cars.  Instead of the segment just based on his research and the future of biofuel, they interviewed him on a bit of his life, and even mentioned briefly that he’s gay (which was a pleasant surprise).

Though the show borders on dumbing-down things sometimes, it’s all in all a good watch if you’re in the mood for some not-so serious learning.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chaser, a super smart dog in Ep. 4

Saturday Morning Documentary: One Day in September

6 06 2011

I said I would post a SMD movie so here it is!

Saw this one a while back so it’s not super fresh in my memory, but One Day in September is an Oscar-winning documentary about the Palestinian attack on athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.  I can’t remember if there was a history lesson included in the film or if they just launched right into it but I learned the background of why it happened during my history class this past semester.  The Middle East is super f-ed up, to say the least.  The Palestinians, who had been living in the area we now call Israel.  After a whole bunch of events including the fleeing from the Nazis in WWII, Jews who had been living in Europe were displaced and a significant population returned to the Middle East, where they are now known as Israelis.  But the Palestinians didn’t really like this big influx of people who were now taking over what they considered to be their land (and the Jews thinking the same too) so then all this conflict and killing and crap happened between the two groups up until present day.  In a nutshell.

The documentary, narrated by Michael Douglas, tells the story of the now infamous terrorist attack in the athlete’s village in 1972 during the Olympics in response to what was happening during the Middle East.  The film is captivating, intense, and harrowing, as we see the events unfolding.  There are some really disturbing things that happen (complemented by some photos) and when the situation moves over to a small airport and helicopters are all involved… wow.  It’s so dramatic it seems like the plot to a movie (though Munich dealth with the terrorists after Black September). And despite all of this, there’s still a sense of humanity in the film — both positive and dark.

Fantastic film.