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Sunday Shorts: Earth (Sun)Day

On Wednesday, you may have noticed it was Earth Day, which came about to create ‘a unified response to an environment in crisis.’

Although the day brings a sense of collectivism in terms of environmental thinking and action, it is important to remember that; this needs to be translated into everyday life/actions/thinkings and also be conscious of organisations greenwashing their involvement in such initiatives.

The theme of Earth Day, really got me thinking about how the environment has been and is being represented via film. The industry itself has come under-criticism for the impact it has on the planet with one article commenting on how ‘Hollywood may be full of progressives, but critics say the industry needs to do a much better job limiting waste and carbon emissions.’ There has been some attempts by organisations and production houses to make a change, with the BFI recently publishing a commissioned report on improving environmental Sustainability in UK film production, and Universal launching Green Universal, but there is still a long way to go...

For this week I have selected a series of films across genres that highlight and think about the environment in different ways. To start I head to the archives and with this short film ‘Clean Air Bus’ from 1973. The film shows a new Daimler Fleetline Bus, which had been converted by Rolls Royce. To really highlight its environmental credentials the bus is seen driving through a green leafy setting. There was however a slight drawback as the bus was so quiet, at times drivers were unsure if the bus was running, and there were a few reports of pedestrians getting hit as they did not hear the bus. This may seem similar to some reports seen recently with the rise of electric/hybrid vehicles, where specific noises are being added to cars in order to alert pedestrians and cyclists of their presence.

Next I bring you a rather meditative film by artist/filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul, Night Noon, whose practice ‘expresses questions of space, memory and geography.’ Her film Night Noon, shows a series of uncanny and surreal shots of geological formations, eroded mountains, dunes and dried lava which is then contrasted against night skies and a parrot and a dog. With the shifting of day and night and land/ocean/sky the film highlights the rhythms of nature, evoking ideas of time and memory.

In relation to the soundtrack of the film Kaul constructed it fully from relaxation CDs, she states:

These CDs have tracks of natural sounds that are actually highly synthesized. I was interested in the notion that a fake–nature soundtrack is being offered as a call to sleep. In the film, the soundtrack has the effect of producing the landscapes as hyper real.’

This notion of ‘fake-nature’ is further highlighted by the setting of the work in Death Valley in California, for which Kaul goes on to comment:

‘I began to think about the desert landscapes of California as particularly interesting because they have been used extensively in cinema. In Death Valley, there is a patch of sand that has circulated in cinema as everything from outer space to Egypt to current war zones.’

In Night Noon, Saul has created a film that flits between ideas of real/surreal landscapes and makes us have an air of suspicion when interacting in the future with both natural and represented landscapes.

The next film is Migration by Fluorescent Hill, an art collective comprised of Mark Lomond and Johanne Ste-Marie.

Migration, takes the style of a vintage nature film, which explores the migratory pattern of a herd of imaginary creatures, after one seeming falls from the sky. It was shot entirely on 8mm film which has then been combined with CG animation. The film offers a heart-warming watch, in which we become invested in the central character's plight to find and connect with their wider species. The vintage style, creates an archive and nostalgic feel, and leaves us wondering as to the current existence of the creatures and whether this species is still around.

Next we turn to a rather surreal animation that I came across at last years Flatpack Festival in Birmingham, Gabriel Harel’s The Night of the Plastic Bags, 2019. It tells the story of Agathe, 39, who desperately wants a child. She heads to a club to find her ex, Marc-Antoine, a DJ who is half way through a set when she raises the idea. As she tries to talk him into getting back together, plastic bags start coming to life and attacking the people in the club and the whole city. The couple try and escape from the bags but they are unrelenting, consuming everything in sight, until Agathe, makes an unusual connection with them. This film is certainly not perfect, and will not be to everyone’s taste, but it offers a glimpse of a dystopian future in which the rubbish comes back not only to haunt us, but to kill us…

Think Hitchcock’s The Birds, vs Sin City, vs An Inconvenient Truth.

How can technology be used to think and interact with nature?, is a question that Marshmallow Laser Feast's VR project Treehugger aims to address. Although in the link below you are unable to see it in the fully 360/VR installation style, it gives you a taster of what the project represents. The work uses a lidar scan method, along with pointillist aesthetics, and if seeing it in real life, you are also exposed to the smell of the tree and able to touch a replica of it. It aims to give an immersive experience of interacting with a 3000-year-old sequoia tree. The creative director of Mashmallow Laser Feast Barnaby Steel comments: "We are intimately connected with the trees… We share breath with these ancient beings, in some ways they can be seen as an extension of our lungs, what we breathe out the trees breathe in; Where does our body end and the tree begin?" he continues. "This project is part of an exploration that reveals the connections between plants and animals and honours trees as ancient, breathing beings that sustain life on earth." The project raises interesting questions about the future of our environmental interactions, are they all going to virtual? And is this representative of a more meaningful and ‘authentic’ experience than connecting with real nature?

Links to Films:

Teeside Municipal Transport, Clean Air Bus, 1973, 1 minute:

Shambhavi Kaul, Night Noon, 2014, 11.27 mins:

Fluorescent Hill, Migration,2013, 6.11mins:

(**WARNING FILM CONTAINS FLASHING IMAGES**) Gabriel Hare, Night of the Plastic Bags, 2019, 17.58mins:

Marshmallow Laser Feast, Treehugger, 2018, 0.53mins (extract):


The Origins of Earth Day:

Behind every production is a Mess of Environmental Wreckage’:

BFI Report:

Green is Universal:

Interview with the filmmaker Shambhavi Kaul:

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