The 13th annual Planet in Focus film film festival in mid-October provided an unbeatable spot to sit and absorb some of the planet’s most pressing ecological stories. And because its 35 screenings and other programming (ranging from industry events to a fabulous Q&A with Ed Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier) took place in Toronto’s sumptuous TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre, the seats were indeed cushy.

The overarching message of PiF is that there are brilliant and passionate people out there, pinning their lenses to the crises, opportunities, tragedies and trailblazers that will guide our survival in the anthropocene age. The festival’s highlights were many (among them James Balog’s presence at closing night gala), and there were far too many excellent creations to take in all at once. In other words, rather than dropping your movie-going bucks on CGI and formulaic cheese recipes, hunt down these docs and feed your mind.

OCCUPY LOVE Directed by Velcrow Ripper

Recognized as Best Canadian Feature at PiF, the eighth film by this homegrown iconoclastic is the perfect antidote for anyone complaining about the Occupy movement's lack of focus or tangible message. For the rest of us, it’s a fabulous retracing of the ground reclaimed so far, and a stunning call to arms for embracing others among the 99 per cent.

WAVUMBA Directed by Jeroen van Velzen

This stirring doc plunges into the mythology and reality of sea shaman from a coastal Kenyan tribe called the Wavumba, “they who smell like fish.” (Let me repeat that with proper punctuation: sea shaman!?) With an almost invisible touch, van Velzen – who grew up in Kenya and was gripped by the folklore – overlays the stories of three local elders and a dreamscape of quiet, gorgeous scenery and action. He also enlists an enigmatic old Wavumba man and a young fisherman to paddle deep into the ocean in a tiny boat to hunt for sharks with almost no gear – one of the many legendary skills claimed by the sea shaman.


Drawing heavily on his years of experience standing up for Vancouver Island’s watersheds against an insatiable forestry industry, Boyce frames the extent of clear cutting practices in one of the country’s richest, oldest collection of trees. Winner of PiF’s Mark Haslam Award (named for the festival's founder), the film builds a compelling defence case for the variety of species and natural capital that are being destroyed, and Boyce argues – with the felled stump of a 1,000-year-old Sitka spruce as his soapbox – that the “real” forest is almost gone.

My next post will be an interview with Toronto-based filmmaker Kristy Neville (who screened her documentary, Dolime Dilemma, as part of the Home Grown program), and we’re planning more coverage of docs we saw at PiF in our upcoming Art + Media annual (May/June 2013). In the meantime, you can also watch trailers and read reviews of Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice (featuring James Balog) and Candida Brady’s Trashed, which A\J co-sponsored the screening of at PiF 2012.

Eric is the founder and executive director of Night\Shift, downtown Kitchener's nocturnal adventure festival, and he helped craft the rebranding of A\J as its editor-in-chief (2012-2014). He has a dusty Bachelor of History from uWaterloo and has worked as a journalist in Canada since 2000, holding editing positions with up! Magazine (WestJet Airlines’ in-flight publication), AdbustersReader’s Digest and other publications, and contributing as a writer to Canadian GeographicMaisonneuveCanada’s HistorySwerveSaturday Night and others. He also used to curate a blog about great Canadian record cover art at


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