Festival educates and organises

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Festival educates and organises

By Francesca Davis

SYDNEY — The Wild Spaces film festival, held here June 19-21, presented a wide range of important issues using various film formats. If it continues and branches out, as festival organiser Gary Caganoff intends it to, it is sure to be very useful in educating and organising people around environmental issues.

The festival was opened by ABC radio's Peter Thompson, who spoke about the usefulness of film in environment campaigns, citing the example of the way the campaign against the damming of the Franklin River used a documentary to broaden community knowledge of the issue.

David Bradbury's Jabiluka was screened, followed by an update on the blockade of the mine site near Kakadu by Chris Doran from the Wilderness Society. Doran told of the rough treatment protesters were receiving from the NT police and called on the audience to support the blockade.

Although this was billed as an environmental film festival, a number of social justice and human rights issues were addressed. Young Wives Tale and A World of Difference illustrated women's oppression. Bougainville: Our Island, Our Fight gave a very clear picture of the struggle there.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening of the festival I attended. It combined rare documentaries with some short comments by the Australian Museum's Tim Flannery on social values and the environment.

The first film was a short that looked at the artwork of Joan Brassil. A fascinating artist, she melds science and art into unique interactive exhibitions and installations.

It was followed two Australian premieres. Toxic Pizza is a chilling look at the lives of people in Maripoul, a steel mill city in the Donetsk region of the Ukraine. Because of the huge amount of iron ore dust particles falling, good health is rare. Women are afraid to have children because many are born with deformities. Unfortunately, the steel mill is the major employer in town, and people fear its closure more than its pollution.

Secret Ecology is the story of Alexander Nikitin, former navy officer in the Russian North Sea fleet. He was accused of treason after taking a job with the Norwegian ecology group, Bellona, and documenting the state of the navy's more than 300 decommissioned submarines, stored in dubious conditions.

Although the film raised awareness about Nikitin's persecution by the Russian state, it failed to explain much about the state of the submarines, or provide the political context of the political frame-up. Filmed secretly and smuggled out of the country, Secret Ecology has a grating soundtrack and dubious translations.

If you have followed Nikitin's case via the regular reports in Green Left Weekly by correspondent Renfrey Clarke, the film fills in the personal side of the story.

Almost as interesting as the Wild Spaces program was the very broad audience — environmental activists, scientists, students, "ferals". In the absence of a broader conference, Wild Spaces provided a gathering place for environmentalists involved in a variety of issues.

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