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Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon
Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon highlights India’s rainy season as both a life-giver and life-taker.

The first Vancouver International Film Festival under its new boss Jacqueline Dupuis opens September 25 and runs until October 10. A former executive director at the Calgary Film Festival, Dupuis will be helming VIFF (www.viff.org) through the uncertain waters of the digital age. Alan Franey, who stepped down from VIFF’s leadership role last year, remains at the festival as director of programming, bringing continuity.

I’ve seen four feature-length documentaries so far. BC-based Sturla Gunnarsson’s documentary Monsoon looks at how the annual deluge has shaped the daily lives of different people across India. Gunnarsson interviews a range of people from the government director of meteorology – whose pronouncements on the weather must be sufficiently sensitive to avoid roiling the stock market – to the bookkeeper who takes bets on whether the monsoon rains will fall or not. The monsoon season – staring in June for four months – brings most of India’s annual rainfall and is both a life-giver and life-taker. No wonder it is often spoken of in mystical terms. The documentary takes a somewhat scattergun approach in its coverage, but has many memorable parts as Gunnarsson takes us through the elation of the monsoon’s arrival to the lows for families and farmers where the rainfall is either too much or too little.

In his documentary, You’ve Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter exposed the obnoxious, bullyboy tactics of Donald Trump as he rammed through the planning process for a garish golf course on a wilderness site in the North East of Scotland. Now, Baxter’s back with A Dangerous Game, which broadens its scope to look at other extravagant golf course projects for the super-rich. In particular, we meet protesters trying to halt a luxury course above the historical Croatian town of Dubrovnik – with total disregard for local social and ecological values. Very much a sequel, there’s some necessary backtracking over ground from the previous documentary. This time, Trump and his son Donny Jr. descend from their towers for interviews to be suitably skewered.

Marmato follows the rocky fortunes of a small, Colombian town sat atop one of the largest gold deposits in the world. Working with pioneer-era mining equipment, local men make a living tunnelling into the very same mountain their houses reside on. A new vulnerability comes into play as the price of gold rockets and a Canadian company arrives in town with plans to turn the mountainside village into an open-pit, “eco-friendly” mine. Miners, finding their livelihoods threatened, organize and resist. Mark Grieco’s coverage of the stand-off is admirably even-handed while capturing the lives and hopes of the small-time miners in intimate detail with atmospheric cinematography.

We hear a lot about compassion in farming, but what does it look like? Meat and Milk doesn’t directly answer that question – it’s too much pure documentary, observing with next to no narrative voice-over and only a minimalist soundtrack – but it does offer remarkable insight into our relationship with cows in 16 scenes across the world. As expected, industrial farming is not a pretty sight. It’s a world of concrete and steel where the beasts are machine-processed with the hard efficiency of high tech. Contrast that with the lame Hindu cow who is hugged, patted and fed by passers-by. From sloppy birthing to slaughterhouse, windswept mountainside to Vegas-like auction house, this has many striking (and disturbing) images, though it would have benefited from more of a narrative – perhaps more from the autistic woman who provides rare insights into the behaviour of this ubiquitous “prey species.”

Robert Alstead is making a BC-set documentary Running on Climate. Support is welcome at www.fund.runningonclimate.com

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