Every holiday has its canonical film, from White Christmas to Halloween.
But Earth Day may be the only red-letter date on the calendar whose cinematic standard is a documentary: Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 Oscar winner, An Inconvenient Truth.
Whatever one’s feelings may be about Guggenheim’s Powerpoint-style aesthetics, his film’s massive box office success instigated a boom period for the production and distribution of environmentally themed documentaries.
“The scene has exploded,” says Kathleen Murphy, the director of programming for the Toronto-based Planet in Focus Film Festival, which takes an annual survey of ecologically-minded non-fiction films (this year’s edition runs Oct 13-17).
“People have always tried to make movies about these issues, but there is more interest now, and so there is also more money, and more exposure through festivals, and a bigger audience.”
The audience has grown to the point where Planet in Focus has expanded to include year-long initiatives: later this month, their Mixed Greens screening series will show Tadashi Orui’s new documentary The Scars of Mercury, which analyzes the fallout of chemical dumping on an First Nations community in Dryden, Ont. (the film screens on Friday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gardiner Museum).
Lina Cino, a campaigner for theToronto Environmental Alliance — a grassroots organization focused on changes within the urban sphere — is a fan of many of the recent eco-docs, but says that their effect on audiences isn’t necessarily galvanizing.
“With some of these films, there is a risk that people will be overwhelmed by the size of the issues being discussed,” she says. “It can be paralyzing. But it’s also important, and fantastic, that these films raise awareness of what’s going on.”
She cites Min Sook Lee’s recent TIFF selection My Toxic Baby, which cast a skeptical eye on the chemical makeup of many child-care products, as an example of a documentary that understands how to get through to is audiences.
“One way to get people to change their behaviour,” says Cino, “is to make it clear what the consequences may be for their children.”