Our planet is getting warmer, oceans are becoming acidic, and sea levels are rising. As climate change continues to damage the ecosystems, biodiversity is declining faster than ever before. The ongoing climate crisis and the efforts to find solutions now reach wider audiences through the news as well as documentary films.
Therefore, SALT, one of Turkey’s most prominent cultural institutions, has been presenting an online screening program of striking documentaries to call attention to climate change and its impact on humans and the world for seven years. The latest edition of the screening program titled “Is This Our Last Chance?” was launched in April and comprises films from South Africa, Norway, France, Canada, Bolivia and the Balkans. This year’s films seek answers as to how humans, animals, nature and urban life can coexist in harmony.
The screening program will stream online on SALT's website until July 4 and the documentaries can be watched free of charge with Turkish and English subtitles. Following the screenings, a series of talks coinciding with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that is planned to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, will bring together researchers, scientists and educators to encourage dialogue and discussion about the climate and ecological crisis.
Here are some of the films from “Is This Our Last Chance?” that you can stream for a week in the following days from the comfort of your home.
Directors Jorg Adolph and Jan Haft’s 2020 documentary “Das geheime Leben der Baume” (“The Hidden Life of Trees”) will be screened online from May 31 to June 6. The 96 minutes, German production is based on Peter Wohlleben’s 2015 international bestseller book “The Hidden Life of Trees.” In his book, the forester has written vividly about his experience that trees are able to communicate with each other. The namesake movie explores the crucial centrality of trees in Earth’s ecosystem.
Wohlleben resigned from his job when he saw the damage wrought by the cycles of clear-cut and single species cultivation in his native Germany. How trees pass wisdom down to the next generation through their seeds, what makes them live so long, and how forests handle immigrants are some of the topics Wohlleben delves into to decipher the signals that plants send to each other. By mapping these hidden networks and relationships, Wohlleben gives a better understanding of the non-human world.
Forests, like ant colonies, are a kind of superorganism: trees are interconnected, they communicate with each other, and even offer community health care in the form of shared nutrients. Wohlleben journeys to the oldest known tree, a 10,000-year-old Swedish spruce, he visits businesses in Canada that are looking for a new approach to how to treat the woods; he joins the Hambach Forest anti-coal demonstrators. In the documentary, Wohlleben explores and celebrates the beauty and magic of the forests and reminds us of the urgent need to protect them.
Another documentary that puts trees, the lungs of our world, under the scope in the program is “Le temps des forets” (“The Time of Forests”) by director Francois-Xavier Drouet. The 103-minute documentary can be watched on June 21-27.
Between 1990 and 2015, the global forest area was reduced by 129 million hectares, which is eight times the size of the French Metropolitan forest. This deforestation has led to an 11% increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Forests play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they act as a carbon sink that soaks up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be free in the atmosphere and contribute to ongoing changes in climate patterns.
Forests across Europe are undergoing an unprecedented phase of industrialization. Changing forest management practices, intensive agricultural models, and privatization, supported by heavy mechanization, monoculture, fertilizers, and pesticides, are compounded by a loss of traditional know-how. Through interviews with rangers, forestry commission officials, sawmill operators and land rights campaigners in France, “The Time of Forests” is a journey to the heart of industrial forestry and its alternatives.
Directors Manuel Deiller and Nina Ardoin’s “Longyearbyen, a Bipolar City” can be viewed online between June 7 and 13. The documentary focuses on the Norwegian city of Longyearbyen, which has been extracting coal for 100 years as a source of energy and income. Located in the Arctic’s Svalbard archipelago, the city is named after the American timber and mineral developer John Munro Longyear, who was one of the two co-founders of the Arctic Coal Company, which became the area’s first working industrial coal operation in 1906. Today, Isfjorden village in the northwest from Longyearbyen hasn’t been ice-covered mid-winter for the last 10 years. Researchers point out that the village’s marine life is changing from the Arctic to the Atlantic climate zone. The rapidly changing climate in Svalbard has caused the local population many problems in recent years. Higher temperatures and increased rainfall have resulted in more avalanches.
Through interviews with officials and locals, the filmmakers probe into the environmental paradoxes of the city and the consequences of them in the movie. For scientists, politicians, and city locals, Longyearbyen is now facing a race against the clock.
Meng Han’s “Yao Wang Fan Xing” (“Smog Town”) is a movie revolving around the fight against air pollution. It will be open to online access between June 14 and 20. Just outside of Beijing, Langfang is in the front line of China’s fight against air pollution. In recent years, China has implemented a strict anti-pollution policy in an attempt to reduce the dangerous smog that blankets its major cities. Langfang Environmental Protection Bureau, headed by director Li Chunyuan and his assistant Hu, works hard to change this. The recurring image of Chunyuan’s desk dominated by the sight of enormous piles of documents, files, and reports becomes, in a way, a metaphor for the complexity of the dilemma the bureau’s employees have to face.
This observational documentary “Smog Town” highlights a bureaucratic situation that parallels the global environmental crisis and raises critical questions. The problem needs to be tackled urgently, but how does one navigate between the divergent interests of the government, its citizens, and companies?
Matthieu Rytz’s 2018 movie Anote’s Ark tells the story of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, one of the most remote places on the planet. The movie, which will meet viewers between May 24 and 30, implies that climate change is not a political or economic issue but is an issue of survival. Kiribati, seemingly far removed from the pressures of modern life, is one of the first countries to face imminent annihilation from sea-level rise. Since gaining independence from the U.K. in 1979, Kiribati has struggled to provide for its residents and remains one of the world's least-developed nations, dependent on regular installments of international aid. As sea levels continue to creep up and intensifying tropical cyclones batter the islands, inhabitants respond by building sandbagged sea walls by hand, even as their homes and businesses are regularly swamped by seasonal storms. “Anote’s Ark” explores what is at stake: the survival of the Kiribati people, and 4,000 years of Kiribati culture.
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