Film Review on Documentary Sustainable

Film Review on Documentary Sustainable

The documentary Sustainable is a close investigation into America's food and agricultural system. This film focuses on exposing the climate crisis we face if we don't unite to find solutions to sustain our future for not only us but our future generations.

Film Review on Virunga- The Fight for the Last Mountain Gorillas

Film Review on Virunga- The Fight for the Last Mountain Gorillas

Few people can say they really know where Virunga National Park lies on a map and even fewer can tell you the tragedy that happened there in 2012. Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and is found in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Demain Earth Day Film Review

Demain Earth Day Film Review

Demain, is an inspiring film that takes us around the world showcasing the various ways individual communities are working together to make a difference for a greener more sustainable world.

Darwin's Nightmare Film Review

The haunting film, Darwin's Nightmare, by Hubert Sauper reveals the horrifying reality of how globalization and a scientific experiment gone wrong can lead to massive exploitation. About 40-50 years ago, the Nile Perch was introduced into Lake Victoria in Tanzania as a simple scientific study. This predatory fish quickly collapsed almost the entire stock of native fish species leaving the local fishermen with only one fish to work with.

This Perch soon became a multi-billion dollar industry. The majority of planes fly in daily from Europe to pick up the latest catch in exchange for weapons and ammunition to fuel some of Africa's deadliest wars in the Congo and Angola. Since the Nile Perch is far too expensive for locals to buy, their only choice is to end up with the wasted and spoiled remains. While Europeans and other developed nations are profiting off Tanzania's Perch and fueling Africa's blood wars, local Tanzanians are dying from starvation, diseases, or otherwise falling into prostitution and drugs. The film exposes the life of these prostitutes, Russian pilots, world bank agents, orphaned children and local fisherman. 

The fish may have been supporting thousands of fishermen and the elite Europeans not too long ago but today the reality is not so promising. The fish is now on the brink of extinction from overfishing, posing a serious threat to Lake Victoria as well as the devastating famine that has already plagued Tanzania in the past.

 Although Darwin's Nightmare is definitely an eye-opening documentary, it is not one of my favorites. There is a definite lack of focus and lack of solutions for an appalling outcome of developed nations and world organizations exploiting local people over an environmental crisis.

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Frack Off, Oil and Gas

 What would you do if you turned on your kitchen faucet one day and it smelled funny? Or if you put a lighter up to the faucet and it lit your water on fire? Would you still drink it? Unfortunately this is a brutal reality for millions of people around the world who are victims of fracking imposed on their own property. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground thousands of feet into a gas shale and pumping water into the shale laced with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals. This water is pumped into the ground at such intense pressures that it creates fractures in the rock freeing the gas and allowing the water and chemicals to leak into fresh water resources.

Josh Fox’s film GASLAND Part II following his first Oscar®-nominated film GASLAND dives deeper into the controversies and dangers of the oil and gas industry, specifically the hydraulic fracturing. The film opens with a haunting clip of the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill in 2010. As far as the eye can see, the surface is coated with the thick black toxic sludge. Fox describes that BP had permission to spray chemical dispersants across the surface making the oil more toxic but also allowing it to sink to the bottom and further into the water column into the sediments out of sight. For them it was out of sight, out of mind. Although they have completely killed the Gulf of Mexico as a productive ecosystem, they will continue to drill, suck out all of the oil, and kill anything in its path as long as it brings in the big bucks. This is exactly how the fracking industry works.

Throughout the film, Fox focuses on various families throughout the US and Australia sitting on natural gas shale formations which have been either thrown off their properties, diagnosed with various threatening health issues, or forced to sign contracts and keep their mouths shut. Thousands of cases of health issues, air pollution, and water contamination have been reported across the globe and have been linked to properties with fracking wells leaking chemicals into their fresh water sources but of course the gas industry denies all of it.  Fox points out numerous disturbing red flags throughout his film about this industry’s manipulative and deceiving techniques to continue ruining people’s lives around the world. 

Cornell University Environmental Engineering Professor, Anthony Ingraffea, explains that a gas well is made of a steel pipe surrounded by 1 inch of cement that often cracks and allows chemicals to leak. He goes on to say that about 5% of all fracked wells will have a failure of cement allowing for methane migration. This means that anything stored in the rock down below now has a pathway to get into the well. If one well has been contaminated, that means that the entire aquifer has gone bad potentially leaving thousands of people without safe drinking water. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) well water laboratory test results show high levels and traces of methane, ethane, ethane, benzene, carbonyl, hydrogen chloride and more. This is a serious issue of resource extraction at the expense of human beings, involving millions of people to be driven out of their homes, leaving thousands with irreversible health problems, and no alternatives for accessible fresh water.

PSYOPS or Psychological Operations are used in war zones for managing outrage and to destabilize a population from insurgency against an invading army. This was what the American military used during the war in Iraq. Although the Defense Department ruled it illegal to use these techniques against Americans, the gas industry still employed former PSYOP experts to write local laws to be used against landowners fighting the gas industry in Texas and Pennsylvania. Anti-fracking protesters were labeled as “environmental terrorists”.  The same company that supported smoking cigarettes and tried to hide scientific research about the harm cigarettes can do to your body was hired on by America’s Natural Gas Alliance (anga) as their PR firm. As Fox states, “just like there is no safe cigarette, there is no safe drilling.”

What disturbed me the most during the film were the actions the EPA took against many of these families who needed safe and clean drinking water, which is supposedly one of the agency’s very principles. Mid-level employees were reported telling numerous affected families that their cases had been dropped and although the water tested positive for numerous life threatening chemicals, the media reported their water as “safe to drink.” Their reasons? Because the EPA receives an overwhelming amount of contributions and donations from the oil and gas industry themselves basically influencing their every move. What happens when the very people you’re fighting against are manipulating the intentions and principles of a federal agency? You lose complete trust in your government.

Hydraulic fracturing has become a worldwide energy issue now with 32 countries extracting natural gas. Many people think natural gas is the answer to global warming and can be a safe alternative to our coal and oil dependency but this is far from the truth, as you will see in the film.  Cornell University Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Robert Howarth, states that about 3.6 to 7.9% of the total amount of gas from a lifetime of a well is emitted into the atmosphere as methane, which is more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 contributing significantly to global warming.

What can we turn to? There are many solutions being studied and implemented now across the globe in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on coal and oil. Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/ Energy Program at Standford University explains that when you combine all renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, solar photovoltaic, tidal, wave, and geothermal power, there is enough wind power in fast wind locations to power the entire world 5 to 10 times over.  According to Jacobson, if we bundle these resources together we can easily supply the demand even in places with lack of solar and wind. Watch the film and make your own opinions on whether you think hydraulic fracturing is an ethical and viable solution.  

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"Better to Light One Candle Than to Curse the Darkness"

A Film Review on Racing Extinction

What do you think our world will look like with 50% of all species wiped off the face of our planet? What might be worse is facing the fact that our human actions are what contributed to their disappearance and knowingly not taking action. 

Using state-of-the-art equipment, Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyus from Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) brings together a team of different artists and activists to createan exhilarating and eye-opening film, Racing Extinction. This film exposes the issue of our sixth mass extinction focusing on various issues such as overpopulation, globalization, and livestock production.

We are currently living in the Anthropocene era, an epoch that begins when our human activities have a significant global impact on our natural ecosystems. There have been five major extinctions in the history of our planet, we are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. This can be considered the worst species die-offs since the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a natural rate of species loss is about one to five species per year. We are currently losing species 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the natural rate with dozens of species going extinct every year. It would be a very scary world to live in with as many as 50% of all species possibly gone by mid-century. 

The wildlife trade is  an enormous industry and it’s second only to the drug market. As our human population grows so will the demand in wildlife trade. In many villages people depend directly on wildlife consumption as a way of making a living. OPS uses covert operations to expose threatened and endangered species being illegally killed, processed, and sold. Massive endangered marine species markets, millions up on millions of shark fins drying out on industrial roofs, and thousands of manta ray gills sold to China for medicinal uses. These are all of the brutal realities occurring everyday all over the world. Throughout the making of the film, undercover investigators visited many cities around the world exposing their illegal wildlife trade practices. Shark fin and manta ray gill trade markets in Hong Kong and mainland China were exposed. The film also covers the successful effort of including manta rays on the CITES Appendix II list of protected species, which ultimately stopped the village from killing the manta rays for Chinese markets. 

These people don’t realize that their traditional practices are driving their own resources towards extinction and their future generations will have nothing left to work with. These towns need to work towards creating marine sanctuaries in order to attract tourism as an alternative source of income. Manta rays, sharks, and all other top predators are worth far more money alive than dead. 

The film also focuses on methane produced by livestock and methane bubbles trapped in frozen reservoirs in the Arctic rapidly escaping into our oceans and atmosphere significantly contributing to global warming. OPS creates a high definition FLIR (forward looking infra red) camera, with a specific color filter to make CO2 and methane emissions from transportation, animals, and industries visible to the human eye. 

Throughout the making of this film OPS did an incredible job of raising awareness by projecting images and clips of the film all over the world along various important buildings such as the Empire State Building, Wall Street, United Nations Headquarters, and the Vatican. Tesla Motors designed a custom Tesla Model car created with electro-luminescent paint, inspired by bioluminescent organisms. The car also projects endangered animal sounds from Chris Clark’s Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The aim of the campaign, partnered with the #StartWithOneThing Campaign , is to raise awareness on a mass level and to inspire people to change habits for the survival of these endangered species. When the majority of nature is at risk, we all have the obligation to act, educate, and inspire others to act. As Jane Goodall says, we must have hope because there is far too much left for us to give up now. 

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México Pelágico- A Documentary That Will Inspire You to Protect Our Ocean’s Treasures!

Image from the Pelagic Life Initiative

Image from the Pelagic Life Initiative

This short film, México Pelágico directed by Jerónimo Prieto founder of Pelagic Life, will inspire you to seek out our ocean’s treasures and to protect and conserve its natural ecosystems. Pelagic Life is a non-profit of photographers and videographers working to capture high quality images of our ocean’s secrets.   México Pelágico portrays Mexico’s open ocean through the eyes of young and enthusiastic conservationists. The purpose of this film is to show the many threats our oceans face today due to our choices and much of our dependence on its resources.

As the team travels throughout some of Mexico’s most pristine and bio diverse dive spots such as Xcalak, Playa del Carmen, Baja, Cancún, and Guadalupe Island, their main goal is to illustrate the fragility of our ocean’s health. The crew steps into the lives of many communities in Mexico that depend on our ocean’s endangered species such as sharks and tuna to make a living for their families. This unfortunate dependence on shark finning, over fishing, etc. has resulted in the overexploitation of many species in Mexico. Throughout the documentary, we see the same fishermen in these Mexican communities, who once hunted for sharks, begin working to protect these majestic animals. This gives us hope that only with simple awareness and information, many of those educational gaps can begin to close.

The film successfully illuminates the unique experiences that occur in Mexico such as Great White Shark sightings, Whale Shark migrations, and world class diving with Giant Mantas and Bull sharks. These exceptional occurrences will inspire you to engage in the underwater African Serengeti and to respect and conserve it through awareness and responsible ecotourism.

The Only Home We Have

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Everyone should watch the documentary Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. This is precisely the information we all need to understand and act upon if we want our future generations to live in a beautiful world. In just the last 60 years our population has tripled. The more the world develops the more thirsty we are for energy. How will we satisfy that thirst? 1 in 6 people depend on fish as their primary source of protein. Yet 3/4 of fishing grounds around the world are exhausted, depleted, or endangered. What will we do when our oceans have been exhausted of fish? In America we use 800-1,000 liters of water per person per day. Water shortages could affect 2 billion people by 2025. Will you be one of those 2 billion? We are only 200,000 years old, yet we have managed to possess every habitat and territory like no other species ever has. Trees provide a habitat for 3/4 of all biodiversity but our forests are being turned into cattle ranches and soy bean farms to feed livestock in Europe and Asia. Will we exploit all of our resources as Rapa Nui did 600 years ago? 1 in 6 people live in unhealthy circumstances without clean water, sanitation, or electricity and half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of the richest 2% of the population. Does that make sense to you? Ice caps are melting at an alarming rate and sea levels are rising. 70% of the world’s population live on the coast, will your home be affected by rising seas? The delicate system that controls our climates has been extremely disrupted. We have no more than 10 years to change the way we live. What will you do?

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A World Without Bees

Bees are disappearing all over our planet and no one knows why. Honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of food in the US alone. They are nature’s best indicator for environmental quality. What if your grocery store looked like the bottom half of this picture? Are we going to be ok with other countries producing all of our fruits and vegetables?

Image from The Vanishing of the Bees

In the eye-opening documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, by George Langworthy and Maryham Henein, we are forced to picture a hauntingly terrifying life without honeybees. Why are bees so important? For one, they pollinate approximately one third of all of the food we eat. Some of the many crops that depend on honeybee pollination include: apples, pears, raspberries, plums, cherries, carrots, and onions. Imagine your grocery store with none of these locally grown food products available.

Throughout the documentary we explore the subtle phenomenon which beekeepers call “colony collapse disorder” or CCD? What exactly is CCD? This term is used to refer to the mass die off of bee colonies around the world. Hives with CCD show symptoms such as worker bees abandoning their hive, which is extremely unnatural, and also lack of attack by other predators such as wasps.

Although no one can say for certain what is causing this awful calamity, many have agreed that decades of exploiting hives may be one reason for CCD. Many commercial beekeepers will feed their bees sugar-extract or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) after taking the honey from away from the bees. From a financial standpoint they can make more money selling the honey and buying artificial sweeteners but this money driven decision has made the bees weaker to pesticides and other chemicals they are exposed to. People may argue that sugar is sugar and that it is the same thing to the bees as honey but this isn’t true. HFCS has a different PH and it lacks the enzymes that bees receive from their natural honey.

Many people might not realize that when you feed the bees HFCS they store it in the same cells that their nectar gets store in mixing it with their honey. So when you buy honey from many suppliers you’re getting a mixture of honey and HFCS even if the label says “pure honey”. HFCS is claimed to be toxic to bees as well as to humans.

The only beekeepers that will thrive in this industry are those that seek sustainable approaches to producing honey, approaches that respect the bees needs creating a market for clean and natural honey.

What can you do?

Write your congressmen and vote with your fork, choose organic and local, plant your own garden with plants that benefit insects such as bees, stop spraying your plants, get to know your local honey producers, and help save the bees!

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Kauai’s Agro-Chemical Dark Side- A Reflection on “ĀINA, That Which Feeds Us”

Napali Coast, Kauai

Napali Coast, Kauai

My best friend Francia Yang, a beautiful half Chinese half Colombian world traveler who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii surprised me with a trip to Kauai for my 25th birthday last year. I was completely mesmerized by the seemingly untouched beauty of the Napali Coast with its emerald green pinnacles towering over the Pacific Ocean for miles, cascading waterfalls plunging into the ocean, piercing aquamarine seas teeming with lazy turtles, happy dolphins and Humpback whales taking care of their young. I remember feeling safe as locals told us that Kauai is one of the more uncivilized and less developed islands of Hawaii.

I left Kauai believing it was one of few untouched islands in the world only to be recently shocked and disappointed about my oblivious misconception. I was browsing the web for environmental documentaries when I stumbled upon “ĀINA, That Which Feeds Us” by Sherpa Cinemas. This short film caught my eye because I noticed that it was about Kauai and I thought it would be nice to learn a little more about the beautiful island I had such fond memories of with Francia. ĀINA is a story about how important it is to take care of our Earth, the only planet we have which nourishes us and feeds us everyday. The film clearly paints a vivid picture of the cultivation process on one small island.

Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands and located northwest of O’ahu.  On this beautiful island you will find two very extreme versions of agriculture. On one side of the island you can find local Hawaiians continuing their traditional system for growing food, which has allowed Hawaiians to live in abundance with the Earth for thousands of years. On the other side of the island you will sadly find four of the largest agro-chemical companies on the planet making this part of the island into one of most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture. The island is used for developing genetically modified crops and for testing ten tons of pesticides every year on these crops, poisoning the environment and local community around them.

The open air method these crops are being tested in is not allowed in other parts of the world such as Europe. These companies are spraying some of those most poisonous chemicals in the world right next to schools and local communities leaving behind toxins in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the soil where their food is grown causing serious health issues ranging from respiratory problems to cancer.

If you look back into history you can see how Hawaii’s Polynesian descendants found the Hawaiian Islands thousands of miles away from any other land mass. They were only able to successfully find these pristine islands because they were so attuned to nature. The way these people engaged with nature with everything they did, allowed them to live in harmony with their environment.

We have this common belief that people are bad for ecosystems and that humans will never be able to live in balance with our environment therefore, there is nothing we can do about ameliorating the damage being done. I believe this is just a cheap excuse to clean your hands of the problem and to remove yourself from the situation. When the Hawaiian ancestors arrived to Hawaii, they created a relationship with nature that allowed them to live sustainably with their resources for over 1,000 years. As the documentary states, today more than 1.2 million people live in Hawaii and almost 90% of all of the food and energy to sustain that population is shipped in from other parts of the world. It’s hard to imagine that only 250 years ago, with almost the same population, zero food and energy was imported because these people knew how to live off of the land. If you take care of your resources, the resources will take care of you.

On the other side of the island you will find Hawaiians farming their land like their traditional ancestors did, it’s a complete contrast with the agro-chemical side of the Kauai. The Waipa Foundation is one example where the locals live off their land and resources using the 1,600 acre ahupua’a of Waipa, located on the north shore of Kaua’i. Waipa is a place where people can learn how to live from their resources such as kalo (taro) and a variety of other fruits and vegetables creating and continuing a healthy and sustainable environment.

The United Nations Environment Programme came out with a report called Agriculture at a Crossroads about how we’re going to feed our growing population in the future. I thought it was interesting to learn that one of the main suggestions in the report was the same way Hawaiians farmed 1,000 years ago through agroforestry, high biodiversity, and maintaining healthy and productive natural ecosystems.

As the documentary comes to a close it brings us back to the Hawaiian ancestors and how they had to be in tune to their environment to find their way to the islands. This is still true today, we have to be in tune to nature and to our growing populations if we want to be able to find our way and save the planet from environmental destruction.

“We vote every time we buy food. We vote. We vote for either sustainable, healthy food or we vote for biotech industrial ag.”
–Don Heacock, Biologist, from AINA

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