Andreas Späth

Eco documentaries are propaganda!

2014-03-24 09:23

Andreas Wilson-Späth

One of the comments I’ve heard from some people who’ve had a look at the programme for the Cape Town Eco Film Festival (which I’m helping to organise) is that some of the movies we’ll be screening aren’t objective.

I agree. They’re not objective.

They have an agenda and look at matters from a particular perspective. I would argue, however, that the same is true even for David Attenborough-style wildlife documentaries you might come across on the National Geographic Channel. They, too, push a specific point of view, even if it isn’t always very obvious.

We’ve picked the films featured in the festival programme because they explore environmental issues that we believe are relevant to all of us.

Do the films always cover critical topics from all possible angles? No, of course not. But we don’t expect you to arrive at the screenings as empty vessels ready to be filled with unalloyed truths that are to be accepted as unquestioned gospel.

We think that the documentaries in the line-up represent excellent tools to get people familiarised with the problems they address and to encourage them to interrogate the facts presented critically in order to make up their own minds.

The point of the festival isn’t to convert everyone to a “green” orthodoxy, but to engender personal reflection and public debate about issues which are of great importance to all of us.

One film that’s sure to rub some people the wrong way is Gasland Part II which looks at the impact fracking for shale gas is having in the USA.

In his quirky style, director Josh Fox doesn’t only manage to present a convincing argument against this controversial technology on the basis of facts, but he also allows ordinary Americans whose lives have been affected by it to speak their minds. And what they have to say aren’t the kinds of things oil industry executives – or the SA government – particularly want you to hear.

Gasland Part II is much more than a follow-up to Fox’s Oscar-nominated Gasland, however. It paints a disturbing vision of what might happen to our own Karoo if fracking does take off in South Africa.

The Treasure Karoo Action Group’s Jonathan Deal will join us for an informal audience discussion after the screening of the film.

Another documentary that’s guaranteed to entice heated arguments is GMO OMG, in which Jeremy Seifert, a father of two young children, endeavours to find out how genetically engineered food might affect his family.

He travels across the globe and speaks to a variety of experts and farmers about the subject. He even tries to get an interview with someone from notorious agro-chemical and biotech giant Monsanto – with a predictable result.

If you’re still not sure what to make of the debate about genetic engineering in agriculture, GMO OMG is a must-see film for you.

Next on the list of propagandist films: In Organic We Trust. Does organic food really make a difference? Is it tastier and does it have any health benefits? Is organic farming actually better for the environment than conventional agriculture?

Or is it all just an incredibly successful marketing campaign and Hippie-inspired money making scheme that aims to guilt you into spending your hard-earned cash on expensive veggies that are not really any different from all the rest?

In Organic We Trust tackles all of these questions with a refreshing honesty and openness that will help you make up your own mind.

While many of the documentaries in the festival programme present rather depressing images of what we are doing to the planet, most of them also offer constructive suggestions on how these problems could be solved.

No film does this better than In Transition 2.0, which showcases a plethora of sustainable alternatives to business as usual ranging in size and complexity from the small and personal to the very large.

Full of real-world solutions from the inspirational Transition Network, In Transition 2.0 will help to restore your hope for a brighter, greener future.

The 2014 Cape Town Eco Film Festival takes place at the Labia Theatre on Orange Street in Cape Town from Thursday the 27th of March to Monday the 31st of March.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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