Environmental films provide a space for discussion on complex issues
- Indian films premiered at the recent All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF) shed light on complex environmental challenges and the lives and livelihoods affected by these issues.
- The films dealt with conflicts between man and wildlife, the lives of fishermen and the environmental complications that arise with road construction.
- Filmmakers who tackle such complex issues are optimistic about the role of non-apocalyptic environmental films, which sensitively treat the trope to raise awareness and encourage action.
Concrete mixer mixing construction materials for road laying and cattle grazing what remains of grass in graying land, become co-authors of ethnographic documentary Not just roads, directed by Nitin Bathla and Klearjos Eduardo Papanicolaou. Following the development of Delhi’s Dwarka Highway, which was first conceptualized in 2007 to decongest traffic and ensure better connectivity, the 67-minute film uses a combination of aesthetics and ethnography to communicate the stories. humans and non-humans whose lives are intertwined. with the main road under construction.
The Dwarka Highway crosses a land with many ecological commons originally inhabited by villagers, shepherds and the working class. Now real estate developments are being sold to the middle class who have invested in high rise buildings adjacent to the incomplete highway; those who have invested in the projects hope that the road works will be completed soon.
The documentary film was part of the 2021 edition of the All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF), which ran online from October 9 to 17, and screened 44 environmental films from 31 countries.
Among the vast selection which explored different topics such as wildlife migration, poaching, conservation, toxic waste and more, there was a variety of Indian films which were shown this year and highlighted the problems related to human-wildlife conflict, challenges in the lives of fishermen, and the nature of the city’s expansions and its environmental and social implications.
Questioning development that contributes to environmental and social violence
Environmental films have become a mature visual genre in recent years. Their effectiveness as a means of stimulating discussion on complex environmental issues results from the flexibility and attractiveness of the medium and dynamic changes in storytelling methods.
Bathla, who has spent nearly a year in the field interacting with different people, says the atmosphere in Dwarka evokes a sense of strangeness. This is reflected in the sound effects and the editing style of the film. Visuals of ghost towns with dilapidated houses, construction workers building roads and working hard, ranchers with nowhere to take their cattle, farmers with shrinking farm fields, determined vendors trying to sell property, Concerned environmentalists trying to protect biodiversity, interspersed with the noise of machines at work, activists protesting to save Aravalli Park and the rum music of a cricket, make the film an intriguing watch. Not just roads aims to build cross-solidarities between all parties and to raise awareness of what happens when intensive capitalism inflicts violence on the environment.
Commenting on the evolution of the style of environmental films, the directors reply: âWe are entering a new world of environmentalism, where there are new ideas. Some of them are not apocalyptic, but propositional. We are going to see more environmental films of all shades. More and more films are trying to show the challenges of everyday life, which is something to be encouraged. “
Fishermen in troubled waters
Filmmaker Giridhar Nayak used to frequent the fishing communities of the Karnataka coast for his photographic projects. He soon realized that there was a complex problem lurking beneath the ocean waters, which could be brought to light with his camera. He went to observe the lives of the fishermen and got on the boats with them to record glimpses of their daily life. His short film Dhivarah (way of life), in the cinema verite style (sometimes called observation cinema), highlights the difficulties encountered by the fishing community. Climate change makes it harder to catch fish that migrate to colder waters, and a slowly degrading industry is making it harder for fishermen to survive. They have to go out to sea in the face of worrying unpredictability. Woven with bytes of desperate fishermen in the face of their situation, elements of faith and culture, and statistics of reports on the drop in catches, Dhivarah reflects on communities whose livelihoods depend on nature.
âWe are not aware of the daily helplessness of fishermen. Their job is demanding. Through the visual medium, I wanted the audience to feel empathetic about their life and work on solutions that include all sections of society. Fishermen are one of the first to be affected by human activities. We need to be aware of our choices and our way of life, âsays Nayak.
Mitigate human-wildlife conflicts
To alleviate human-leopard conflict in the Himalayan mountain forests, a man from Shimla shoots leopards with his camera, another man from Uttarakhand shoots them with his gun. Shoot that leopard is a film which sensitively portrays these men at work. Filmmaker Sohail Jafri first got to know Ashwani Kumar, the protagonist, who works for the government in Shimla, filming leopards in their habitats and screening them in villages around Shimla to raise awareness. Kumar says he thinks people need to understand the leopard in order not to be afraid. Jafri then meets Lakhpat Singh Rawat, an official hunter from the Uttarakhand Forest Department, who is also a schoolteacher. Rawat slaughtered nearly 50 leopards (considered man-eaters) to protect the population. He sees his work as a social service.
In conflict hotspots, due to habitat destruction and leopards following in human footsteps in villages, locals live in constant fear and are reluctant to let their children go out on their own or let their pets outside. . The film also features the voices of wildlife experts and researchers who explain that human-wildlife conflict is primarily a conflict between people. It is more about human management than animal management, they say.
Jafri wanted to explore beyond the problems and present a solution in the film. He found this solution in Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, where forest department officials created a concrete plan to reduce and eventually stop human-wildlife conflict. Together with the citizens living around the national park, journalists, scientists and wildlife researchers, the forestry department has succeeded in creating an environment where humans and leopards live together in harmony, which is evidenced in the movie. âWhen we have a successful model, the forestry department, wildlife scientists and other stakeholders should come together and share best practices to make it work in conflict areas,â Jafri shares, adding that these attempts are already underway. In progress.
Regarding the role of environmental films in today’s world, Jafri notes, âThese stories are waiting to be told. With the latest equipment and new styles of storytelling, environmental and wildlife cinema is attracting more people than ever before and it is interesting to see the developments.
The fight of a fishing community for its right to common goods
Another film screened at the Alt Eff festival, Sagarputra: Offspring of the sea, directed by Pooja Das Sarkar, opens with a shot where the fishermen of Trombay Koliwada prepare their boats and nets at night. âWhen the moon is high in the sky and the water stops rising, then we know it’s the right time to cast our fishing nets. The moon guides our work, âsays a fisherman from the Koli community, an indigenous community in Mumbai, who has been fishing in Thane Creek for 500 years.
The Trombay Koliwada fought for the government of Maharashtra to recognize their claim to their customary fishing commons. Their efforts were stifled as the value of Mumbai’s properties rose and the pressure to commodify land intensified. The public bus company BEST in Mumbai has acquired 25,000 mÂ². from the fishing towns of Trombay Koliwada for a bus depot. The community continues to resist the enclosure of the commons. Sagarputra elucidated this crisis by showing how the land is used by the community for fishing and not. âWhat I like about the community is that they are always fighting for their land, they don’t give up! Sarkar shares.
The film is based on research by Lalitha Kamath and Gopal Dubey of the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Sarkar, who works on thematic films, believes in the power of audiovisual media to publicize research that is otherwise contained in academic circles. She says: âCinema is an intermediary between academics and the public. Translating such research into films brings the problem to the masses who would not normally understand how infrastructure development could affect the livelihoods of fishing communities.
The challenges of people living outside Protected Areas
Your Tiger Our Forest is a documentary directed by Ishan Sharma that transports audiences to Brahmapuri, Maharashtra, a hotspot for human-tiger conflict. The film explores the anthropological aspect of human-wildlife conflict by interacting with residents who live outside protected areas, wildlife scientists and forest officials. Farmland is located near forests and villagers depend on the forest for their resources. But due to the tigers scattering through the corridors beyond protected areas and habitat fragmentation, the conflict has intensified over the years.
“Move the tigers elsewhere and we can farm more comfortably!” Â»Shares a villager who has been farming for 25 years. This echoes the voices of many Brahmapuri residents who want the tiger removed from the forest. âSo the title,â Sharma remarks. But relocation also presents serious challenges and implications, according to wildlife experts.
âPlacing local communities on the same pedestal as the forestry department and wildlife scientists is essential to providing solutions to human-wildlife conflicts. Movies can raise awareness and spark conversation, but ground-level action is what will bring about a change. Right now, the people of Brahmapuri need a solution, âSharma concludes.
Banner image: A photo of dhÄ«varaá¸¥ (Way of Life).