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Get your eco stroked: The SA Eco Film Festival is back

Get your eco stroked: The SA Eco Film Festival is back

After a successful first run in Cape Town last year, the Eco Film Festival is back – and it’s going nationwide. From the action-packed seizure of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to a lone dad on a mission to wrestle the tablets out of kids’ hands and get them into the great outdoors, the film festival has 25 brand new local and international titles on offer this year. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

The other day, I was having lunch at a really beautiful outdoor location and a little girl who still had a dummy in her mouth and a nappy on her backside was sitting a metre or two to my left, playing on a tablet. She’s still sucking her thumb and she’s probably more technologically literate than I am. But the flip side is that she’s sitting on a beach staring at a screen. No bucket, no bikini. At the risk of a takedown by my colleague Ivo Vegter, I’m not entirely sure what kind of life she’s going to live if some green-thinking folks don’t step in.

How can parents get their kids away from electronic screens and into nature? What are the thousands of industrial chemicals we are constantly surrounded by doing to our bodies? Will sharks survive humanity’s seemingly insatiable hunger for shark fin soup? These are a few of the questions posed by the films in the upcoming South African Eco Film Festival, which ran for the first time last year in Cape Town. It was well-received, say organisers, and this year it’s going nationwide.

Woman Ecstatic_River_Love_Thy_Nature LARGE

Photo: Love Thy Nature

“We’ve branched out,” says Andreas Wilson-Späth of While You Were Sleeping, the non-profit organisation behind the festival. “After last year’s enthusiastic reception, we’re sprouting offshoots in three additional venues around the country.

“Our mission remains the same: to raise awareness about the many pressing environmental issues the planet is facing, through the amazing medium of documentary film. We’ve put together a world-class selection of films that both entertain and educate.” 

Watch: South African Eco Film Festival Trailer

Last year’s success also bagged the festival sponsorship from MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet for this year, which enabled organisers to broaden their vision somewhat. This year, the programme includes over 25 short and feature-length documentaries, 12 of which are coming to South Africa for the first time. The film voted most popular by the audience will receive the Silver Tree Audience Choice Award.

2Stef and Tiger shark

Photo: Extinction Soup

The aim of the festival is not only to bring to light environmental challenges, but also to give exposure to the genre of documentary, which remains neglected in mainstream cinema, says co-organiser Dougie Dudgeon, also of While You Were Sleeping.

“We think that documentary films are an excellent way of learning about environmental issues, but unfortunately, they tend to be rather neglected on the mainstream cinema circuit,” says Dudgeon. “This year’s festival includes a number of South African productions, and we want to share these magnificent and important films with as many people as possible.” To this end, the festival will also include the Eco Kids Film Initiative (EKFI) which features films made for, and sometimes by, children.

“We need to ensure that children are aware of the relevant environmental issues and have a vehicle through which to voice their concerns in a creative and empowering manner,” says Tarien Roux, director of EKFI, who believes film is the most versatile medium to do so. The screenings by EKFI will all be followed by group discussions and are aimed at children aged three to six, seven to 11, and 12 to 17, including a mix of documentary and narrative films, which will combine live action and animation, depending on the subject matter and age group.

As for the films themselves, here’s the pick of the crop. Abalimi (The Planters) tells the story of a group of women fighting poverty and working towards food security through micro-farming. You may be familiar with them already, if you buy vegetables through Harvest of Hope. If you don’t know their story, go and watch it – and support them. The veggies provide food at low cost to the community; any excess is then sold for income to consumers outside the community, also at low cost because it’s generally seasonal. It’s a winning formula for all concerned.

Just Eat It will call to mind everything your mother ever told you at the table, and worse. Do not miss this one. Accessible, funny, informative and cringeworthy in equal measure, it’s the kind of documentary that festivals are made for, and it’s won a host of awards to prove it. Food wastage is more of a problem than you ever imagined – and in this hugely entertaining film, the filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer turn themselves into test subjects, vowing only to live on discarded food for the period of a year, while investigating the extent of food wastage in America, from the farm, through the retail chain all the way to the table. What they find is shocking – and what they do is pretty shocking too, from rummaging in waste bins to begging farmers for pig food. However, it drives the point home: we waste far too much food. (Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the ingenious sales campaign by French supermarket chain Intermarche to reduce food wastage – in response to their finding that each year, we throw 300 million tons of perfectly good fruit and vegetables away – you’re missing out; they and their advertisers created a win-win situation where, through brilliant and humorous repackaging of “unsellable” foods, they not only eliminated wastage, they also reduced costs and increased sales.) Just Eat It highlights all the same issues, but will stay with you for longer.

Another local eye-opener is Msobomvu – the red of the rising dawn. Msobomvu is a small but vibrant village of 270 households, just outside of East London. This community has been working together to try and secure services such as mobile clinic visits and school transportation, but has been battling to do so without reliable access to energy or water. Since 2012, they’ve had the assistance of the Project 90 by 2030 team, which has been working to try and improve their energy and water security.

Then there’s a video series from Conservation International, which features a collection of A-listers including Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Edward Norton, Penelope Cruz, Robert Redford and Kevin Spacey. These names will no doubt be a drawcard for many, and each star personifies some aspect of nature in the title Nature is Speaking. In it, nature is actually given a character, at times remorseless, sometimes with a wry sense of humour, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes puzzled, sometimes coolly logical. The script and concept are certainly original and it’s an interesting take on a message that doesn’t always get through, as summed up in the tagline: NATURE DOESN’T NEED PEOPLE. PEOPLE NEED NATURE. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth seeing for its creative approach. If you like a poetic style, you’ll enjoy it.


Photo: Project Wild Thing

Project Wild Thing tells the story of a dad who appoints himself ‘Marketing Director for Nature’ in an attempt to get his kids less hooked on screen time, and more interested in the natural world. It’s quirky, fun, and will definitely resonate with a lot of modern families.

Real Value is a must-see for entrepreneurs or indeed anyone interested in more socially conscious business. This award-winning documentary delivers valuable insights on how business can be used to create value beyond profit alone, providing input from social entrepreneurs working in a variety of fields ranging from agriculture to insurance. There’s also some solid insight into behavioural economics from psychologist Dan Ariely, which provides a refreshing take on how business can actually prioritise profit and planet equally – and still actually flourish.


Photo: Trashed

Anyone remember Jeremy Irons? He actually hasn’t disappeared from the face of the earth. Apparently he’s just been burying himself in trash heaps. No, seriously. The resulting movie, Trashed, is really very good. Trashed takes Irons on a journey of discovery after he finds himself overwhelmed by a giant mountain of rubbish near a beach in the Lebanese city of Sidon. Said trash-heap, described beautifully in the film synopsis as “a pullulating eyesore of medical waste, household trash, toxic fluids and dead animals” inspires Irons to travel around the world to find beautiful destinations ruined by rubbish. The resulting film gives us an in-your-face, cannot-be-ignored rundown of all the rubbish we create, dump, and then proceed to ignore.

Lastly, Wrenched, which is a kind of road trip with renegade American novelist and environmentalist Edward Abbey, and Black Ice, which takes one aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise – infamously seized at gunpoint by Russian Special Forces – promise a little more action for those who prefer their films a bit faster-paced.

The 2015 South African Eco Film Festival runs from Thursday 26 March until Thursday 2 April 2015. Tickets for the Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg screenings cost R45. For each ticket sold, R5 will be donated to Greenpop, the Cape Town based tree-planting organisation. DM

Main photo: A scene from Black Ice

The Festival will be held at The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg, the Asbos Teater in Pretoria, Khula Dhamma Retreat Centre & Ecological Farm near East London and the Labia Theatre in Cape Town , which Dudgeon calls the festival’s “spiritual home”. To peruse the complete festival programme, including summaries and trailers of the films on show, visit the official website at

While You Were Sleeping website: 
Twitter: @WYWS_SA


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