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The Ecofilms’ provocative messages in Rhodes June 26, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Festivals, Movies Life Greek.
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Food for thought from filmmakers who tackle the gritty issues facing people and planet

There was a bittersweet sense about many of the works shown at the Ecofilms Festival that ended Sunday on Rhodes.

Inevitably, films about depleted resources, environmental devastation, the hazards of development and conflict loom large in a festival that focuses on the environment and the people who inhabit it. Yet the feeling was not one of impending doom. Countering the somber messages of a grim future in a ravaged world were the extraordinary resilience and creativity of ordinary people who are determined to make a difference.

War and its collateral damage was a common theme. In «My Country, My Country,» American director and cinematographer Laura Poitras portrays the reality of life for Iraqis under occupation through the story of Dr Riyadh, who continues his work as a physician while standing as a Sunni candidate in the elections. Poitras, who filmed alone over an eight-month period, is now on a terrorist watch-list in the USA for her efforts. Fellow-American James Longley also looks at Iraq from within, with portraits of a boy of 11 working as a mechanic, the seething public emotions of Shia Muslims in Sadr City and the Kurds and their hopes for the future.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a backdrop to three of the most striking films at the festival. «The Color of Olives» by Mexican director Carolina Rivas follows a family of Palestinians who refused to move from their land to make way for the separation wall, which was then built around them. They have to wait, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, for Israeli soldiers to open the gate that gives access to their farmland. The patience and dignity of the encircled family and the director’s insistence on showing rather than telling give this low-key film remarkable impact.

Other lives are ruled by the wall in «Nine-Star Hotel,» by Israeli director Ido Haar, who managed to gain the trust of Palestinian men and youths living in hiding, in improvised shelters, and working illegally in Israel. We see them create a small community out of nothing, face pursuit and arrest together, and keep coming back because they have no alternative. Even the youngest among them are often the sole support of their families.

If there is any hope for change in that part of the world, it may start from initiatives like the one documented in «Knowledge is the Beginning,» by German director Paul Smaczny. Conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said shared a rare capacity for vision and realism. Their ambitious project, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra brings young Arab and Israeli musicians together to perform in the belief that having to work together will help break down prejudice. The film reflects the complexity of the process as the musicians confront their own feelings and learn to work together.

There was much more > The politics of oil in Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack’s «A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash» (Switzerland) and Giorgos Avgeropoulos’s «Delta: Oil’s Dirty Business» (Greece), the environmental harm caused by gold mining in «Aletheia» (Turkey) by Petra Holzer and Ethem Ozguven.

The power of film and investigative journalism to make a difference is illustrated by «Killer Bargain» (Denmark) by Tom Heinemann. The director successfully confronts buyers in Scandinavia with evidence of the appalling working conditions of Indians who make the cheap clothes they buy.

The power of collective action is evident in «The Water Front» (US), where Liz Miller documents the feisty inhabitants of Highland Park, Michigan, who claim the right to affordable utilities as their water utility faces privatization. And Indian filmmaker Pradip Saha brings the power of humor to the gritty subject of «Faecal Attraction: Political Economy of Defecation.» The festival, in its seventh year, offered plenty of food for thought, not all of it palatable but provocative, as its followers from Greece and abroad expect.

Ecofilms is organized by the Cultural Organization of Rhodes and the Image and Environment company. The prize winners >

Feature-length films > The first prize went to «Surya: From Eloquence to Dawn» (Belgium, 2006), directed by Laurent van Lancker. The second prize went to «Forever» (The Netherlands, 2006) directed by Heddy Honigmann. The jury awarded a special mention to «My Country, My Country» (US, 2006), directed by Laura Poitras.

In the medium-length film category, the first prize was won by «Akhmeteli Street, Number 4» (Romania, Georgian Republic, 2006), directed by Artchil Khetagouri. «The Workhorse» (France, 2006), directed by Alain Marie, won second prize.

Short Films > «Identities» (Jordan/Denmark, 2006), directed by Sawsan Darwaza, won first prize and «Star Story» (Russia, 2004), directed by Alexey Pochivalov, won second prize, while «Spirals» (France 2006), directed by Marie Daniel, received a special mention.

The Greek film Center gave two awards for Greek films > Marianna Economou won the first prize and 3,000 euros for «My Place in the Dance» (2006), while Zoe Manta won second prize and 2,000 euros for «Dehiscence» (2006).

The Medwet/Ramsar award for films on water and wetlands went to «The Water Front» (US, 2007) by Liz Miller.

Two films shared the audience prize, chosen by the Cinema Club of Rhodes > «Knowledge is the Beginning» (Germany 2006), directed by Paul Smaczny, and «Surya.»

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