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Great Docs at Mill Valley Film Fest
by Tony Reveaux
(Lf-rt) Tom Dusenbery, Will Parrinello and John Antonelli are the Mill Valley filmmakers behind 'The New Environmentalists'. photo by Robin Mortarotti
Making Films That Matter
That’s the motto of Marin County’s own Mill Valley Film Group. Since 1985, the Sausalito-based production powerhouse has turned out titles as diverse as: “Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats;” “A Yen for Baseball;” “Sumo Basho;” “Little Italy;” Mustang: Journey of Transformation;” “Emile Norman: By His Own Design;” “Santiago Calatrava’s Angle of Inspiration;” and “Sam Cooke: Crossing Over.”
Featured in the recent Mill Valley Film Festival 38’s “Valley of the Docs” (the festival ran from October 9th to 18th), their reach and depth is worldwide with “The New Environmentalists: From Myanmar to Scotland” (2015). The subjects are the six winners of the 2010 San Francisco-based Goldman Environmental Prize, which each year gives $150,000 cash awards to a half dozen activists from across the globe.
Narrated by Robert Redford, it was produced and directed by John Antonelli, Will Parrinello and Tom Dusenbury. According to their promo materials: “’The New Environmentalists’ share a common goal – safeguarding the Earth’s natural resources from exploitation and pollution, while fighting for environmental justice in their communities."
Produced as a multiple-episode treatise, it was broadcast on PBS stations and on the Sundance Channel's primetime programming block, The Green. The multiple Emmy Award-winning series has gone on to win a fistful of international awards. The 26-minute Film Festival Version of “The New Environmentalists: From Myanmar to Scotland” shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival presents a penetratingly succinct and comprehensive assessment of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Phyllis Omido of Kenya grieves a child lost to pollution. photo courtesy Mill Valley Film Group
Cap Haitien, Haiti
In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, weakened by persistent political instability, the marine environment is besieged by overfishing and pollution.
“The biggest environmental wound in Haiti,” said Jean Weiner, Founder, Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity, “is the cutting down of the mangrove forests to turn into charcoal.” Mangroves protect against storm surges and nurture fish and coral reefs. His group helped to create two new marine protected areas, and the community planted one million trees, and restored degraded coral reefs.
The repressive military junta government was opening up the Irawaddy River Delta to foreign investment, a Chinese-built dam on the river that would displace 18,000 people and wreak environmental devastation.
For Myint Zaw, photojournalist and founder, Ju Foundation, who worked to articulate and communicate protest against the dam project, the strict media censorship of the government called for new approaches.
They cocooned their messaging within a series of art shows, that remained a wary step beyond the ever-vigilant censors. Their exhibits could distribute scientific and environmental materials that were not normally available to the public. “We knew we had reached the tipping point when the entire country was talking about the dam,” said Zaw. Civic leaders and members of Parliament took to the issue, resulting in a meeting of 3,000 people that reached the president, and the dam project was suspended. “The people spoke, and the government actually listened.”
Marilyn Baptiste gives her protection to the waters of Fish Lake. photo courtesy Mill Valley Film Group
Rio Blanco, Honduras
“This river has spiritual and ancestral importance to our people. The Gualcaire River is also used for growing food and medicinal plants,” said Berta Caceres, co-founder, Copinh.
After a military coup in 2007, the government awarded concessions for hundreds of dams for mining sites, with a giant Chinese corporation. Copinh, an indigenous rights organization, rallied the Linca people around their traditional territories.
Through more than a hundred local assemblies, they produced peaceful demonstrations in the nation’s capital. A yearlong strategic roadblock spurred conflict and deaths, but eventual resolution and the halting of the dam on Rio Blanco.
Owino Uhuru, Kenya
A local smelting plant processed the removal of lead from used car batteries. Phyllis Omido, founder, Center for Justice, Governance & Environmental Action, could see that the toxic fumes were having adverse environmental effects on the community. Some of the children were passing out. The water they were drinking was poisoned.
When her own infant became affected, Omido turned to mount objections to the refinery. All 3,000 of the community presented the issue to the Kenyan government. After many levels of protest, temporary shutdowns and political setbacks, the government finally closed the refinery.
British Columbia, Canada
A mining consortium was planning a vast open pit mine that would drain nearby Fish Lake for a containment area. Led by Marilyn Baptiste, Xeni Gwet’in Councilor, the Okanogan Nation tribe protested the project though the government was giving it their approval.
The comprehensive report they presented won the decision of the Canadian Environmental Minister to deny the project’s initiation. The mining company continued to start work on the excavation, but Baptiste raised a roadblock and finally the Prime Minister put a halt to the project.
The waters around the island were always teeming with fish and sea life, “But,” said Howard Wood, Chairman, COAST, “within ten, fifteen years, we were lucky if we would see one every few months.”
It is drag fishing, plow-like scoops dragged repeatedly over the fragile seabed, that has scoured and decimated the marine ecosystem in the bay. Wood compiled data and appealed to Parliament and the Department of Fisheries.
However there had been no precedent for a no-take zone in Scotland. After a long campaign directed at the government and the fishing industry, COAST achieved a community no-take zone for Lamlash Bay.
Changing the world starts at home.
Tony Reveaux is a writer, educator and film and tech expert, who has served as the senior CineSource writer since 2008 and can be reached
Posted on Dec 09, 2015 - 01:03 AM