x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Green film maker urges greater resource responsibility

Works that focus on the environment are receiving special treatment this year at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in a series entitled 'What in the world are we doing to our world', and a director and a producer say the UAE could help further the conversation.

Angus Aynsley’s The Wasteland is a documentary about the rubbish collectors who live on the world’s biggest landfill site in Brazil. Delores Johnson / The National
Angus Aynsley’s The Wasteland is a documentary about the rubbish collectors who live on the world’s biggest landfill site in Brazil. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // With the UAE's wealth comes an increased responsibility to be more responsible about managing resources, according to two eco-minded filmmakers whose works are screening at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Angus Aynsley produced The Wasteland, a documentary about the rubbish collectors who live on the world's biggest landfill site, which is in Brazil, and Pedro Gonzalez Rubio directed To the Sea, a narrative film about secluded fishermen in Mexico.

The movies are among six with green themes airing at this year's festival under the banner: "What in the world are we doing to our world?"

Mr Aynsley, a British-American whose film won the audience award for world cinema documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival, said the need for governments to step up became apparent during several weeks of filming in Jardim Gramacho, a landfill site near Rio de Janeiro.

"You realise how much we consume and how much we waste in wealthy countries, and at the same time how lucky we are," he said. "People who have no other choice squeeze every last penny out of the waste, but we don't have that need. With wealth comes a great responsibility to manage it."

The 98-minute film follows the story of seven catadores - the Portuguese term for those who live off the recyclable materials they find in the rubbish dump - and a renowned Brazilian artist called Vik Muniz, who photographs the catadores and helps them make high-end pieces of contemporary art from the waste.

Muniz and his team then sell the artwork at auction for more than US$250,000 (Dh918,252), which goes back to the catadores to help improve their lives.

"We take the garbage and bring it back into a luxury product," said Mr Aynsley. "We also take people who are viewed as garbage in society and put them in a process where they are getting something back. It is a full circle."

Abu Dhabi and the UAE, said Mr Aynsley, can be at the forefront of being able to create a similar process in the Gulf region.

"Environment is the big growth industry now," he said. "It's only a matter of time before someone invests and becomes the leader in the region."

Mr Rubio, whose 70-minute work revolves around a fisherman and his son living on the shores of Mexico's Chinchorro coral reef, said the way of life portrayed in the film is rapidly disappearing because of urban expansion. To the Sea he said, forces viewers to question their idea of happiness.

"It's not that I am against urbanisation or construction. It is imminent and it would be foolish to deny it, but we need to ask why are we doing this to the world," he said. "We are ultimately seeking comfort, but happiness is not always related to comfort. My film is a kind of pre-nostalgia to a type of life that will no longer exist. They live in a hut surrounded by salt and surviving from the sea, it is not comfortable and it is different to our ideas of happiness, but that does not mean they are not happy."

Wealthy countries such as the UAE are also in a position to help the global environment by supporting sustainable technologies, said Mr Rubio.

"There is the technology now to be able to live from renewable energy, but we are not," he said. "Here [in the UAE] they have the means, and I wouldn't be surprised if the new systems come from this part of the world."

Laurence Vanneyre, a project manager with Emirates Marine Environment Group, said her group was working to educate local organisations about renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but stressed habits also need to change.

"The problem is when they start construction in the sea they don't know what is under them," she said. "It causes sedimentation that kills coral and seagrass and causes a lot of damage ... we do a lot of communication and raise awareness and it is changing bit by bit. We want to make people aware that they should protect marine life because it is for their own survival, too."

aseaman@thenational.ae