Saving ourselves


The Expedition to the End of the World movie
From The Expedition to the End of the World. A quixotic voyage aboard a schooner through the fjords of North-East Greenland.

• How does humanity deal with the threat of annihilation of itself and the biosphere? Three documentaries at the Vancouver International Film Festival offer very different responses.

In The Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende), Danish director Daniel Dencik follows a crew of artists and scientists on a quixotic voyage aboard a schooner through the fjords of North-East Greenland which, thanks to a warming climate, is now navigable for a few weeks each summer. Framed artfully against an exquisitely still landscape, the team members philosophize on the nature of being and douse existentialist angst with dry Northern European humour. It’s beautiful visually and sometimes very funny.

Oil Sands Karaoke (October 4, 6, 11) is like a television talent competition except it follows workers in Fort McMurray, Alberta, bonding in a pub over a karaoke competition. The contestants share why they work in one of the most vilified industries in the world – a good pay cheque is a big part of it – and how karaoke relieves the loneliness and grind. The broader health and climate issues of the tarsands are muted, while director Charles Wilkinson (Peace Out) lets the visuals of the eviscerated landscape speak for themselves. In this harsh environment, with people struggling to redeem or enrich themselves, a social conscience seems to be treated like a liability.

In From Neurons to Nirvana (October 1, 9), Oliver Hockenhull’s thorough exploration of banned psychedelic drugs brings a much-needed dose of sanity to the discussion about the use of ayahuasca, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin and marijuana. While proven to have beneficial medical applications, these drugs are treated on a par with hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The documentary makes extensive use of archive material and experiments with an array of visual graphics to make its points and shows how drugs act upon an individual. The fact that psychedelics are in the public domain made them a target, suggests Hockenhull, with Big Pharma’s philosophy being, “If you can’t patent it, then prohibit it.” Perhaps most interesting is his argument that responsible use of psychedelics could possibly open doors in our consciousness that could mean the difference between our “salvation or destruction.”

Documentary Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve ( October 5, 8 ) is a polished, accessible account of the shadowy world of central banking. It tracks the causes of the financial meltdown and conveys an overarching sense that US monetary policy makers continue to juggle with fiscal dynamite. While “Fed” interviewees are only too happy to share insights and mea culpas, this doesn’t have the same moral urgency of earlier doc Inside Job when exposing transgressions.

As VIFF closes on October 11, Watermark, a new documentary from Manufactured Landscapes Jennifer Baichwal and renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, opens in Vancouver. Pulling from 10 countries, the film navigates 20 stories on the theme of water. These range from the construction of the Xiluodu Dam – six times the size of the Hoover – to the Kumbh Mela festival where 30 million gather for a sacred bath in the Ganges at the same time, to the water-intensive leather tanneries of Dhaka.

Finally, an important new film recently opened in the US: OMG GMO reveals the pervasiveness of genetically modified food and searches for a way to break out of that reliance. See the feature article in this issue of Common Ground.

Robert Alstead is making Running on Climate,


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