To my delight, the Take One Action film festival arrives in Inverness and breaks with tradition by not taking place on a weekend that I’m working. Actually it also breaks with tradition by arriving in Inverness at the tail end of October rather than in the latter part of November. I presume this was so that it could be part of Eden Court’s wider ‘Climate of Hope’ season but could equally have been with the aim to catch the audience when they were thinking about environmental issues in the run up to COP26 and were not yet jaded by all the coverage and compromises. Whatever the reason, it meant that I could actually have seen all five films if I wanted. (I only didn’t go to see The New Corporation because – as it’s subtitle an unfortunately necessary sequel implies – it’s really dispiriting to go see a sequel to a documentary you saw twenty years before and know that so little has in fact changed I saw it in a freezing cold and mostly empty screening in the MacRobert Centre when I was a student. Though I imagine its even more depressing to need to make said film.) It was a bit of a treat to be able to be picky and prioritise films based on preference – I usually pick the environmentally themed films, but they were all on that theme this year – rather than when I wasn’t working.
This was an interesting film, that made excellent use of it’s archive source material from the National Library of Scotland. It uses the archive – mostly public information and marketing films with some news reports and community donated footage – to tell the story of the economic and industrial development of Scotland and the Highlands in particular since the Second World War.
The part that fascinated me the most is that the vast majority of the footage is from films that were made with some sort of agenda, whether establishment or corporate, to change minds or otherwise sell some sort of idea – the anti nuclear campaigners are the most explicit in trying to influence their audience, but some of the others are about as subtle as a brick in their own efforts to get their message across. It was definitely interesting to see how large the dreaded issue of ‘development’ has loomed across this whole period, both in the Highlands and across the wider Scottish landscape.
The film came with an introduction from director Emily Munro so I know there was a lot of other subtler stuff going on in the film that I don’t feel really came through on screen. However, it was in it’s own way an inditement of just how male dominated Scottish public life was during the twentieth century – grey men in grey suits indeed.
The Ants and the Grasshopper
In some ways this film reminds me quite a bit of Thankyou for the Rain, which I saw as part of Take One Action back in 2017. About a Kenyan farmer turned climate activist and his work changing life in his community and taking his story and experience to the Paris 2015 Climate Change Conference.
Something that I liked better about this film was that Anita and Esther felt more embedded in their communities than the other film’s protagonist Kisulu. While he felt more like a lone force of nature changing his community around him, they felt more woven into a wider community of people striving to change their own locality for the better, and the wider world in turn. In many ways Esther is a similar kind of force of nature person, but we mostly follow Anita’s perspective and we see Esther’s impact filtered through her perspective and through the impact that Anita knows Esther had on her own life and work.
There’s no cathartic moment of achieving major change in this film. There are small victories certainly but mainly it is a film about the slow steady work of changing hearts and minds. The drip, drip, drip of a thousand small conversations with neighbours and colleagues, day in day out, to slowly change attitudes and build communities for change. It’s there that Anita’s greatest victories are achieved and in a way that’s the real message of the film, I think. That the rest is up to us, the audience to take up the work and do the slow grinding work of changing hearts and minds one conversation at a time.
The Last Forest
First up, this film came with an accompanying short film that’s worth noting. Sky Aelans is a film from the Solomon Islands that seems to have been made largely to celebrate the Solomon Islands government acknowledging the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples who live in their rainforests stewardship over their own land and putting appropriate environmental protections into place. It was nice to have, for once, a good news story about rainforest protection. To see joy and triumph on their faces, rather than anger or stoicism in the face of great injustice.
The Last Forest itself follows the intertwining story of Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa – who co-wrote the film – and his campaigning work to protect their forest and the every day struggles and conflicts of other Yanomami people. The film mixes an observational style that feels almost documentary-like with what are clearly staged dream sequences that illustrate both the creation story of the Yanomami people and the major role that the spirit world still has on their day to day lives. The film mixes both elements together with ease – at one point a young woman waits patiently for spiritual guidance while Davi discusses the incursions of prospectors into land further up the river with other community leaders over a ham radio. Mostly though it is an ode to community, to their achievements large and small and what they might yet do together. At it’s heart it is a film that deals with what all minority communities deal with in the face of an increasingly global world, what to take from the new world and what to keep from the old one, and whether a compromise is even possible.