Dr. Vandana Shiva at Planet in Focus

Dr. Vandana Shiva photo courtesy of Planet in Focus

Last week, Planet in Focus wrapped their five-days of 60 films, from 15 countries, attended by 30 international and Canadian filmmakers. With numerous sold-out screenings including their opening event “An Evening with Dr. Vandana Shiva”, the attendance for this year’s event was up 15 percent from last year.

Documentaries, animated shorts and experimental films, including a humourous PSA with themes ranging from food, e-waste, energy, seeds, mining, social justice, First Nations issues were all part of the festival. A successful Industry Day brought together Canadian and International filmmakers, writers, producers and broadcasters and Eco Hero awards were presented to Dr. Vandana Shiva and Amy Millan.

“At Planet in Focus, we see film as a catalyst for change,” said Anne Mark, Executive Director of Planet in Focus. “It is our hope that all of the films we screen move audiences to create change.”

I was fortunate enough to attend two days of the festival, watching a collection of eight different films and shorts. Being my first film festival, I wasn’t sure what I was to expect, but am ecstatic to say that it exceeded all of my expectations. These films introduced me to issues, concepts and stories I was unfamiliar with like the counter-culture community of Monte Verità in Freak Out, biodynamic farming and the endangered Danish Red Cattle in Good Things Await, and the problem with boat debris following Hurricane Sandy in Boats of Jamaica Bay.

The festival was a mash up of all of my emotions. I laughed during Flight of the Polar Bear, shed a tear during An Omnivorous Family’s Dilemma, and was outraged by government authorities in Plant, Pick & Eat It. The lasting effects of the films I watched at Planet in Focus summoned my fear for the future of our planet but left me hopeful for change. It was a beautiful festival shedding light to the darkest environmental issues that plague our societies, and the achievements being made to change humanity’s ways. 

An amazing aspect of the Planet in Focus Film Festival was the attendance of some of the filmmakers at their screening. During the Q&A sessions I was able to get immediate answers to some of the burning questions I had about the film. It also highlighted the challenges filmmakers’ come across when starting these projects that are sometimes overlooked. It created a deeper appreciation for all of the films I watched because of the filmmakers’ passion in ensuring the voices of the communities and people in the films were being told despite the adversities they faced.

“At our Opening Night Gala, we had a great Q&A discussion following the screening of After the Last River with filmmaker Victoria Lean, producer Jade Blair, Victoria's father David Lean and Rosie Koostachin, a community member from Attawapiskat who is also in the film. There were also many other people either from Attawapiskat or connected to the place through family and friends in attendance at Opening Night. It was so powerful having Rosie and the other community members at the screening, giving a face and a voice to the serious issues and concerns that can seem far away to those of us in Toronto. Rosie even read out handwritten messages from people in Attawapiskat — messages they wanted her to deliver to us on her trip to Planet in Focus,” Mark said of the event.

As for what’s next for Planet in Focus, their 17th annual Environmental Film Festival has been scheduled for next year in October. They run various programs throughout the year including a Touring Program bringing environmental films to schools and communities, their Eco Film Lab program teaching elementary students how to make environmental films as well as their Salon Vert, holding monthly screenings, expected to start up again beginning of next year.

Can’t wait for next year’s festival? Sign up for the Planet in Focus newsletter and follow them on Twitter to find out more about their upcoming events.

Eunize Lao is the Editorial Intern and a third-year Environment and Business student at the University of Waterloo. 

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