x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

ADFF offers Dh55,000 prize for environmental documentaries

Abu Dhabi Film Festival inaugurates Our World award for eco-minded documentaries.

If a Tree Falls, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, is about the Earth Liberation Front, which the FBI considers a terrorist organisation.
If a Tree Falls, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, is about the Earth Liberation Front, which the FBI considers a terrorist organisation.

A chimpanzee raised as a human baby and the real-life story of the cowboy who inspired The Horse Whisperer are among the subjects covered in documentaries competing for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival's Our World prize.

The Dh55,000 award will go to the best film about significant environmental issues. The winner, chosen by a jury that includes graduates from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, will be announced on Friday night at the Black Pearl awards ceremony.

The festival has shown selections of environmental films before, but this is the first time a prize has been up for grabs in this category.

"We have had a focus on films about the environment from the very beginning and that's for a very important reason because the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, was a visionary in many ways," says the festival's executive director, Peter Scarlet.

"He was a man decades ahead of his time and because his sense of the importance of preserving the environment was so acute, we created this series several years ago. And now this year, in association with Masdar, we are able to have a jury and a competition for the films."

Eight feature-length documentaries and two dramas from a total of seven countries are competing for the prize, and other topics explored include light pollution, environmental activism and the damage caused by the coal industry.

The chimp is the subject of Project Nim, a British film directed by James Marsh, who won an Oscar for Man on Wire. The film tells the story of a 1970s experiment in the US designed to discover whether a chimpanzee - Nim - could learn to communicate with language if it were raised like a human.

"The story is an irresistible one - what happens if you try to nurture a baby chimpanzee like a human baby?" said Walsh. "How much will he become like us? Nim never saw or met another chimpanzee for the first five years of his life so, in that respect, it's a very pure experiment, though the results are very surprising, to say the least."

The Horse Whisperer, the novel by Nicholas Evans that was made into a film starring Robert Redford, was inspired by Buck Brannaman, the subject of Cindy Meehl's film Buck, which tells how Brannaman put a difficult childhood behind him to became a famous horse trainer.

This is Meehl's first film, and she said: "I think Buck's story has a freshness that can be very moving, especially in a time when the world is looking for direction."

Wang Jiuliang's Beijing Besieged by Waste examines the problems caused by the piles of rubbish generated by China's rapid economic and industrial development.

The City Dark, by the Brooklyn-based filmmaker Ian Cheney, tackles the issue of light pollution and details how it makes the stars invisible in the night sky over urban areas. Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson, by the Canadian Trish Dolman, tells how Watson co-founded Greenpeace then broke away to become a take-no-prisoners activist.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, looks at a controversial environmental group that the FBI has described as the US's biggest home-grown terrorist threat.

Bill Haney's The Last Mountain is concerned with a destructive form of coal-mining known as mountaintop removal, which is carried out in the American Appalachians.

Taste the Waste, by Valentin Thurn, is about the vast amounts of food that are dumped in rubbish bins each year - 90 million tons in Europe alone.

Rounding off the list are the two dramas that coincidentally share the same theme, hunting.

Troll Hunter is a Norwegian production directed by André Øvredal, while The Hunter, from the Australian director Daniel Nettheim, stars Willem Dafoe tracking down the rare Tasmanian tiger.

Masdar and the ADFF have also been working together to help the festival become more sustainable in its own operations. In the run-up to the event Masdar conducted an environmental analysis of the operations and helped organisers to offset their carbon emissions.

Four of the films contending for the Our World prize screen today at Marina Mall's Vox 3 cinema: If a Tree Falls is on at 1.30pm at Vox 3; The City Dark is at 4pm; The Last Mountain at 6.45pm. The Hunter screens in Vox 6 at 9.30pm