7 Must-Watch Global Documentaries From Planet In Focus Film Festival

Now in their 19th year, Planet in Focus is an environmental media arts organization with year-round programming. Their mandate is to produce cultural events that showcase engaging and artistic films that question, explore and tell stories about the world in which we live. They use film as a catalyst for public awareness, discussion and engagement on a broad range of environmental issues.

Their goal is to enlighten, engage and entertain audiences of all backgrounds – through film. We’ve had the pleasure of screening some of the films from this year’s festivals and here are 7 Must-Watch Global Documentaries From Planet In Focus Film Festivall.
We also had a chance to catch up with a few of the directors to talk about the relevance of their films.

Sharkwater Extinction | Rob Stewart Canada | English | 2018 | 90min 

Rob Stewart’s final film is a testament to his bold investigative skills, intense dedication to the preservation of sharks and immense courage as an eco-warrior and deep-sea diver. We follow Stewart as he looks into the underbelly of corruption, encountering politicians and fishers who continue to defy the banning of shark finning around the globe. Travelling to Costa Rica, Panama, Cape Verde, the Bahamas and the U.S., Stewart uncovers the final fates of sharks, whose lives have been taken away due to greed and profit. Over 100 million sharks are killed each year and Stewart, whose blockbuster success Sharkwater was a major factor in the official halting of shark hunting globally, was engaged in a personal mission to find out what had gone so wrong since that time. Tragically, Stewart wasn’t able to complete his quest to expose the killers of his beloved whales but this film is a lasting record of his valiant attempt.

The Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero award was created in 2017 in memory of the late Rob Stewart, a past recipient of the Canadian Eco-Hero award. Find out who is our 2018 Youth Eco-Hero here.

Join special guests Brian and Sandy Stewart for a post-screening Q&A.

GROUND WAR | Andrew Nisker | Canada | 2018 | 78min

An intensely personal piece, Andrew Nisker’s Ground War is an investigation into the death of the filmmaker’s father. Harold Nisker was a “health nut,” a man who exercised diligently. For decades, Harold played golf every day except for winter: it kept him fit and he loved the game. It was only after his father’s shocking death by cancer that Andrew, an investigative documentarian, began to wonder why the golf course he played in was so uniformly green and manicured. His discovery that one of the chemicals used at the course was part of Agent Orange, the notorious “defoliant” that killed countless Vietnamese during the Vietnam War sets Nisker on a journey that takes him to the original quite weedy and bumpy Scottish golf course, Donald Trump’s Americanized version of it, and a look at what causes cancer. Ground War asks a lot of questions –and many are not answered.
Sunday 28, October, 6:30pm | Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

What does the film say about the world we are living in? 
Our world is extremely complex making the movement to tackle environmental issues hard to unify. Most, are drawn to issues that are right before them, that present imminent danger.  When it comes to the question of synthetic chemicals in the environment, very little is covered in mainstream media. Simply, I believe, because their threat is invisible and hard to quantify.  In Ground War as in my other films, I attempt to bring the invisible to light and hopefully move the audience toward engaging in a subject they would otherwise overlook. The use of cosmetic pesticides to beautify our green spaces is a relatively new notion. As with the fashion industry, a certain, Madison Avenue aesthetic has been engrained in the zeitgeist fuelling an industry that is determined to convince consumers to use their pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides to achieve a so-called “beautiful” park, playing field and lawn. For the last six decades their campaigns have worked but now the conversation is changing. Communities are waking up to the reality that beauty comes in many shades of GREEN. That, you can still have beautiful parks, playgrounds, lawns and playing fields without the use pesticides. In fact, over 80% of Canada restricted over 100 pesticides for use in parks, playgrounds, and playing fields, and our green spaces are still admired and enjoyed by all. In this world, old notions are hard to shake but I have hope that we are moving toward a healthier environment. But, we need to bring the invisible but impactful polluters to the world stage and expose their dirty practices. Only then can we change or legislate billion-dollar industries to put people over profits.

Why did you feel this was a timely subject to cover?
My career, for the most part, has been dedicated to environmental issues. Yet, climate change has been a subject I have shied away from simply because there are many others doing a fantastic job telling those stories.
I have always been fascinated by environmental issues that involve chemical pollution. As one film leads to the next, a personal tragedy, the loss of my father, hurled me toward making Ground War. There was nothing calculated about the decision to make Ground War, the subject matter of the film drew me in. It so happens, though, that the release of the film couldn’t come at a better time in global discussion about the use of pesticides. A recent judgment against Monsanto in a California court for the use of Round Up to maintain play areas at schools show it is time to relook at the use of herbicides like Round-Up to simply keep grass weed free. It is a historic time and we hope Ground War will be used as tool to help bring the conversation mainstream and inspire communities to reexamine their environmental policies when it comes to using chemicals to beautify their green spaces.

MIDIAN FARM | Liz Marshall | Canada | 2018 | 80min

Liz Marshall’s latest film, Midian Farm, is a highly personal project. She ventures back to the 1970’s when her parents were pioneers in the back-to-the-land social and spiritual movement, in which youth from Toronto left their urban life for a communal one in the country. Few, if any of these young people had experience or understanding of farm life, making their rural lives a fully immersive learning experience. Marshall’s compelling doc reveals that the most challenging task for her parents and the rest of the commune was navigating and creating a new utopian social order. The stress of maintaining a new lifestyle in an unfamiliar environment proved too difficult and in less than a decade, the project and the farm were abandoned. The film’s storytelling relies on former members of Midian Farm sharing their individual perspectives of this communal project. Through their stories, Marshall reconciles some of her earliest childhood memories and their impact on her life.
Saturday 27 October, 5:45pm | The Al Green Theatre

What does the film say about the world we are living in? 
Humanity strives for hope — idealism is a link that binds us also separates us.
The era of the 60s and 70s was unique in its social experimentation, its convergence of social movements, but there are echoes today of the past, and lessons to be learned. We can be cynical when looking back at youth, pure intentions, utopian aspirations, but we need this energy of hope to survive and thrive.

Why did you feel this was a timely subject to cover?
The themes are universal. Community,  family – broken family, trying to make the world a better place.
The back to the land movement was starting out back then and is strong now. There is urgency. People recognize the need for sustainability, stewardship of the earth, and so much more.
The story of Midian Farm is like a capsule containing many timeless stories and lessons, and now it is on the record as Canadian history.

BECOMING ANIMAL | Peter Mettler, Emma Davie | Switzerland | 2018 | 79min

Bold, sensuous and philosophical, Becoming Animal is a unique collaboration of cinematographer and director Peter Mettler, director, professor and actor Emma Davie and performance artist and philosopher David Abram. A profound adherent of animism, Abram believes that the human body inevitably connects with other animals—and indeed, with everything in the world including plants. Using his acclaimed visual style, Mettler plunges us into nature where Abram’s beliefs can be experienced in a way that borders on the spiritual. The Grand Teton Park in the mountainous northwest region of the U.S. is the environment that the trio wisely chose for their main location. Its diverse wildlife population and extraordinary peaks and valleys are perfect for this gorgeous—and challenging—film. From elk to snails to the vistas of the Tetons, this film is a delight to the senses, awakening the animal in every cinemagoer.
Saturday 27 October, 9:30pm | Innis Town Hall

What does the film say about the world we are living in? 
Hopefully, the film doesn’t say one simple thing about the world we are living in but opens up connections and resonances between different themes and ideas about our way of seeing or communicating with the natural world. This is sorely needed as we are undoubtedly suffering from what we both feel is a crisis of perception. We see the effects of this all around us, but the film is trying to examine what the roots of this crisis are. We are living out the consequences of a dominant worldview which has separated us from nature. But even to ask how to see ” nature” more clearly is to enter a vortex of paradoxes which the film is aware of and also can’t escape.

Why did you feel this was a timely subject to cover?
Technology has become an extension of our bodies and minds more than ever. It has, as David says in the film, the ability to disembody us into virtual worlds which mirror us back to ourselves to such an intense degree that we can lose a sense of the non-human world around us. But it also contains such potential for illumination and is, of course “natural” in a profound way too. It seems really important to avoid demonizing it but to recognize part of its evolution as an extension of our urge to engage with everything around us.
How can technology be used to make us more present? How can cinema itself engage us more fully through its constructions so the screen becomes a way into deeper perception rather than zoning out?

WHEN LAMBS BECOME LIONS | Jon Kasbe | United States | 2018 | 76min

Documenting Kenya’s poaching crisis through a lens worthy of Martin Scorsese, When Lambs Become Lions is less a conventional conservation film than a captivating, masterfully crafted thriller. In his startlingly accomplished feature debut, filmmaker Jon Kasbe follows two family members on opposing sides of the ivory war, one a crack shot park ranger, the other a contraband kingpin. Embedding himself with his subjects for months at a time, Kasbe’s access is remarkable. This is particularly true of “X”, the charismatic ivory broker attempting to stay a step ahead of heavily armed authorities that count his cousin Asan among their ranks. Asan, meanwhile, is a former poacher himself, and, given the high risk and low pay of his new profession, could yet be lured back into the illicit trade. Crackling with drama, insight, and moral complexity, When Lambs Become Lions is both one of the year’s best documentaries and a true cinematic tour-de-force.
Friday 26 October, 10:00pm | Innis Town Hal

YOUTH UNSTOPPABLE |  Slater Jewell-Kemker | Canada, United States, Nepal, Mexico | 2018 | 87min

Slater Jewell-Kemker is an Ontario filmmaker and the embodiment of “youth unstoppable”: young people who are determined to fight for a future that is clean and green and friendly to the environment. In this, her provocative debut feature, she brings us on a journey documenting the rise of the Global Youth Climate Movement through rallies, international social media exchanges and at major Climate Change Conferences. Passionate and honest, Slater Jewell-Kemker’s autobiographical film shows her development—and those of her committed friends—as they grow as activists and individuals from adolescence to wholly engaged climate change fighters as adults. Along the way, they suffer defeats as the older generation of politicians fight real change even at global conferences but these unstoppable youths are learning from defeats and are more committed than ever. This impressive feature is an urgent call to action from a filmmaker and a generation who don’t want to inherit a deeply wounded planet.
Thursday 25 October, 6:30pm, The Royal Cinema  

BEYOND CLIMATE | Ian Mauro | Canada | 2016 | 49min

Working with renowned environmental educator and broadcaster David Suzuki, filmmaker and professor Dr. Ian Mauro focuses on issues faced within British Columbia, which are all too typical of those experienced around the globe. Hosted by Suzuki, the doc begins in the mountains of BC, exploring the effects of record-breaking forest fires, and moves toward the Pacific coast, where the ocean is becoming more acidic. The salmon streams, so important for Indigenous life and culture are being affected by warming waters while pipeline development and oil shipping tanker spills threaten the entire eco-system of northern B.C. Beyond Climate is a stunning, well-argued plea, which asks viewers to recognize the pressing issues of climate change in our own backyard and begin to adopt an environmentally respectful and low-carbon future, in which humans “move back and give nature a chance.”
Friday 26 October, 7:00pm | Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

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