When we think about environmental films, adjectives like moralistic and didactic usually come to mind. Al Gore's 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth is a good example of this. It takes a direct approach to highlighting the dangers of climate change. It hits you on the head. It chastises rather than inspires. And, let's be frank, it can come across as a little bit preachy.
You won't be seeing that type of film at Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival. The inaugural festival, which will be held at Manarat Al Saadiyat early next month, will address environmental concerns, such as the dangers of climate change and issues of food and electronic waste. But the films will present these topics through storytelling. The aim is to inspire, to move and not to preach, Nezar Andary, artistic director of the festival, tells The National.
“We wanted to present films that highlight environmental issues through emotive narratives,” he says, adding that it can be difficult to portray these issues in a way that captivates an audience. “But these films do exactly that.”
One example is the festival's opening film, Albatross. "The film is harrowing and beautiful. It connects viewers to nature and the environmental crises by telling a story. It takes us to the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy."
Albatross is a visual journey into one of the most remote places on Earth, Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean, where tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with discarded rubbish. Filmmaker Chris Jordan and his team returned to the island over several years to witness the cycles of life and death the albatrosses face.
"Welcome to Sodom is another one," Andary points out. "The film takes us to a landfill in Ghana where electronic waste from the west is recycled. It is a ghastly beautiful experience told by the workers themselves."
Organised by Zayed University and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the inaugural Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival will take place from Thursday, February 6 to Saturday, February 8 and will be free to the public. "We didn't pay any airfare [to transport the films]. It's all digital. We wanted to take an environmentally conscientious approach to setting up the festival as well," Andary says.
Instead of the red carpet events that usually precede film festivals, Al Sidr will first be launching across high schools in Abu Dhabi and at Zayed University. "One of the most important contributions to the festival is the citywide screening of the film Youth Unstoppable and we'll be screening it at eight Abu Dhabi high schools and Zayed University," Andary, who is also an associate professor at the university, says. "In a way, the festival will kick off the week before it officially begins. And it will start with the youth."
Youth Unstoppable takes viewers inside the rise of the Global Youth Climate Movement. Taking place over the course of 12 years and set against stunning visuals of a planet in crisis, the film follows the evolution of a diverse network of youth who rise up to shape the world they live in.
Andary says the idea for Al Sidr came from a class he taught inspired by Rob Nixon's book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of The Poor.
“It is the author’s way of describing the threats of environmental issues. His way of saying environmental movements are not as appealing as other humanitarian movements because their effects are not immediate. They gradually happen. They aren’t spectacles.”
The book re-energised Andary's approach to talking about environmental issues in his classes. He brought novels and screened films with compelling narratives as a way of educating students and wanted to set up a film festival that had the same approach.
"I was mostly inspired by the environmental film festivals in Kuala Lumpur and Princeton," he said."We wanted to start small here, just for a weekend. But the hope is to build a tradition, to host it every year."
Andary says that though there are no regional films in the festival this year, he hopes it will encourage local and regional filmmakers to make films about the environment.
A number of workshops are also scheduled during the three-day festival. Some will focus on how different types of waste can be transformed, such as a plastic bag into fused plastic leather. Others will teach ways to avoid wasting food, transforming scraps into incredible dishes.
Khansa Al Blouki, director of environmental outreach at EAD, says the focus of the festival is on waste and its impact on the environment. "We aim through Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival to highlight crucial environmental issues from different points of view to inspire and motivate audiences to better understand the threats and challenges that our planet faces."
The festival's aim, she says, is to change that awareness into positive and sustainable behaviour that conserves the environment.
Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival will take place between Thursday, February 6 and Saturday, February 8