Environmental documentaries worth watching

By Abby Volkmann ‘13Environmental Columnist

Waste Land Directed by Lucy Walker, Joao Jardim, and Karen Harley, 2010

“Waste Land” showcases artist Vik Muniz’s project from Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill located outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Muniz collaborates with interesting individuals called catadores, who live and work in the garbage, in order to create huge murals made entirely of trash such as toilet seats and bottle caps.

In extensive interviews with various catadores, we learn about how gender influences their collection preferences and how they have learned to read using books they discovered in the trash.

Muniz’s murals bring attention to these invisible people and invisible garbage that most people forget about once it is removed from their homes.  It is both moving and heartbreaking to see the catadores reflect on the impacts of Jardim Gramacho on the local ecological and social environments. Muniz’s final products are beautiful. The films demonstrates the power of the intersection between art and humanitarianism. “Waste Land” is a wonderful documentary that touches the heart through the personal stories of the catadores. Throughout the film the viewer is reminded of the importance of recycling and is forced to consider personal consumption habits and the life cycle of garbage.

The original art pieces were auctioned off and these profits were donated to the catadores community. However, I wonder whether additional profits from the film benefited to these marginalized people, or if perhaps the producers exploited the catadores for personal profit.  Regardless, the film is worth watching.

Flow: For the Love of Water Directed by Steven Starr, 2010

The world’s water resources are in a state of considerable uncertainty: problems with water scarcity and quality are disproportionately affecting poor people throughout the world. The film highlights the sad-but-true politics behind this increasingly devastating water crisis.

The film reports on water crises throughout the world, but one particular case I found especially upsetting was the case of water privatization and profiteering in Bolivia.

In Cochabamba, Bolivian people went to war in 2000 because their water supplies had been stolen and sold to foreign multinationals for profit.   Another alarming case examined in the film is that of the bottled water industry.  People spend millions on bottled water each year, yet in many cases “bottled” is merely treated municipal tap water.  The film made me wonder why those who most commonly buy bottled water are those already with access to safe tap water.

Although the current politics of water seem pretty dismal, the film does an excellent job showing how communities around the globe are fighting for their water rights.  FLOW does an excellent job of illustrating the variety of problems our planet is facing regarding water resources and ultimately inspired me to write my senior thesis on water politics.  I highly recommend the film.

The Cove Directed by Fisher Stevens, 2009

This disturbing yet informative film uncovers the truth behind the annual killing of dolphins in the Taiji National Park in Japan. The Cove follows former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry who uses hidden camera footage to expose corrupt and inhumane dolphin massacres in Japan.

Live dolphins captured off Taiji’s coast sell for roughly $150,000, then are sent to theme parks and supply many of the swim-with-dolphin programs all over the world.

Yet an astronomical number of dolphins are killed in Taiji each year. The fishermen lure dolphins into a cove and trap them by creating a wall of sound on the ocean floor.

I was surprised to learn about dolphin personalities: they are extremely intelligent and sensitive animals. Seeing the brutality that these animals face is disturbing. The film exposes an important industry that needs to be regulated and changed. I strongly recommend this film, but I must caution viewers about its unsettling and graphic scenes of dolphin killings.