Search
3D 5th Wave 80s Cinema A Night of Horror Action Activism Adaptation Adelaide Film Festival Adventure Advocacy African American Age of Adaline AI albanian Alien Abduction alien covenant aliens altzheimers amazon Amitabh Bachchan Animation anime anthology Anti-vaxx Ari Gold Art Asian Cinema Australian film AV Industry Bad Robot BDSM Beach Boys Berlinale BFG Bianca Biasi Big Hero 6 Biography Biopic Blade Runner Blake Lively B-Movies Bollywood Breast Cancer Brian Wilson Brisbane Bruce Willis Camille Keenan Cancer candyman Cannes cannibalism Cannon Films Cesars CGI Chapman To Character Actors Charlie Hunnam Charlize Theron Chemsex China Lion Chloe Grace Moretz Chris Hemsworth Chris Pratt Christchurch christian cinema christmas Christopher Nolan Classic Cinema Close Encounters Cloverfield Comedy Coming-of-Age Conspiracy Controversy Crowd-sourced Cult Cure Dakota Johnson Dance Academy Dardennes Brothers darth vader Debut Deepika Padukone Depression Disaster Movies Disney Diversity Documentary doomsday Dr Moreau drama Dunkirk Dustin Clare Dystopic EL James eli roth Elizabeth Banks Entourage Environmental Epic Erotic Cinema Extra-terrestrial Extreme Sports faith-based Family Film Fantasy Father Daughter Feminism Fifty Shades of Grey Film Film Festival Foreign found footage French Cinema Friendship Fusion Technology Gareth Edwards Gay Cinema Ghostbusters Ghosts Golan Globus Gothic green inferno Guardians of the Galaxy Guillermo del Toro Gun Control Hacker Hailee Steinfeld Han Solo Happiness Harrison Ford Harry Dean Stanton Hasbro Haunted house Hhorror Himalaya Hitchcock Hollywood Holocaust horror Horror Film Housebound Hunger Games Idris Elba IFC Midnight IMAX In Your Eyes Independence Day Independent Indian Film

Entries in Environmental (5)

Thursday
Jun012017

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT: THE KIRSTEN CARTHEW INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The vast, magnificent country of Canada’s Northwest Territories is home to the Gwich’in people, an indigenous population whose relationship with the flora and fauna of the unforgiving landscape dates back many centuries. In The Sun at Midnight, director Kirsten Carthew utilises the backdrop of the land and its people to tell a deeply affecting coming-of-age tale, in which a teenage girl of Gwich’in ancestry (played by Devery Jacobs) must reconnect with her heritage to survive in the Arctic Circle wilderness. “Immersion in nature supports self-discovery and mental wellness,” says Carthew, whose semi-autobiographical narrative and stunning imagery represents a remarkable debut feature. Ahead of her film’s Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, Kirsten Carthew (pictured, below) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE from Berlin, where she is accompanying the film on its international festival rollout… 


SCREEN-SPACE: It is such a unique premise for a film - the archetypal teenage coming-of-age story, but one melded with a survival drama. What inspired the narrative?

CARTHEW: The story comes from my own life, growing up as a teenager, feeling like a fish out of water, dealing with an intimate personal loss. I have moved locations many times and have always found solace and comfort in nature. Anyone who has suffered loss or felt disconnection can relate to the personal journeys of Lia and Alfred. These are the personal themes and they are universal, because as people we are so similar in our wants and needs. Additionally, themes relating to the need for greater environmental stewardship and the importance of connectivity with nature can be embraced by universal audiences, and told in The Sun At Midnight through specific references to champion protection for caribou populations, as well as for the lands and waters in the Arctic and Subarctic regions.

SCREEN-SPACE: I don't imagine the people of Fort MacPherson see a lot of film industry types. How willing and accepting of you and your crew were the population? What did you need to convey about them to ensure authenticity?

CARTHEW: The Sun At Midnight is the first feature film from Canada’s Northwest Territories. I am from a township there called Yellowknife. A feature film shoot was a new experience for Ft. McPherson, which is located at the Arctic Circle and has a population of 750 people. In 2009, I approached the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute; they shared an earlier draft of the script with elders and community members, who gave great feedback and decided to collaborate. Their participation was essential to both the story’s authenticity and the realization of the film. It took us six years to secure financing and our Gwich’in partners actively supported and contributed to the project throughout. The film was only made possible with the participation of the community of Ft. McPherson and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, who helped crew the film with locals. We held the premiere at the high school gym and had a feast for community members, who were thrilled to see people they knew on screen. The Sun At Midnight is the first film to feature Gwich’in characters, land and values and Indigenous audiences and fans of Indigenous cinema have embraced the film. We are proud of our collaboration and relationship and continued support for the film. (Pictured, above; Devery Jacobs as Lia)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your leading lady, Devery Jacobs, is such a compelling screen presence; visually, of course, but also a personality that evokes both teenage angst and an 'old soul' spirit...

CARTHEW: I was immediately struck by Devery’s screen presence during her auditions. ‘Compelling’ is exactly right. Devery is the ideal collaborator, a total pro whose acting process includes in-depth character analysis and mindful reflection. She invested fully in the role and it was easy to trust Devery to embody the role of Lia. Once Devery was cast in the role, there were some aspects of Lia’s character that organically changed now that we were co-creating the story. I loved working with Devery and value how invested, professional and just truly exceptional she is. (Pictured, above; Duane Howard as Alfred)

SCREEN-SPACE: Lia's growing respect for and unlikely friendship with Alfred is the heart of your story. How did you, Devery and the wonderful Duane Howard create the chemistry and balance in their story?

CARTHEW: We had a tight shooting schedule and little rehearsal time. I did my best to organize the shoot chronologically so that the real life relationship between Devery and Duane would develop in line with the on-screen relationship of their characters, Lia and Alfred. It was important for the performance to drive the camera-action, which meant that the camera would follow the actors’ lead. To this end, I worked alone with the actors on set to feel out the scenes before the key crew was invited to watch. I also gave the actors alone time on set before key scenes so they could be as present with each other as possible. Devery and Duane also genuinely connected and developed a friendship as individuals, which was great. I think part of their on-screen chemistry reflects their genuine respect and care for each other. 

SCREEN-SPACE: It looks to have been a physically demanding shoot, utilising locations that have been largely unseen by film cameras. What disciplines did you and your production have to master to adapt to the conditions?

CARTHEW: Over 90% of the film was shot outdoors. That’s a huge challenge because regardless of budget or location, you operate at the whim of the weather. We shot at a time of the year that should have provided the ideal filming conditions but that definitely was not the case. Instead, we experienced temperatures ranging from -5 to +22 Celsius and rain, fog, snow and sunshine. We filmed the “in town” scenes first, when it was sunny and 22 degrees.  Then, just a week later, when we started to shoot the outdoor scenes, the temperature dropped to below zero and all of our locations were suddenly under two feet of snow! We didn’t have any choice but to continue filming and incorporate the snow into the film. We had to scout new locations everyday and move quickly to stay warm, but also move more slowly to accommodate so many new technical and logistical challenges. Devery and Duane were total troopers and handled the cold with total grace. The crew was often wet, cold and, by virtue of our location along the Arctic Circle highway, forced to suck up the discomfort and plough through. We have several “war stories” from the shoot, which were a little painful at the time, but now bring us together and we laugh at! (Pictured, above; Carthew, far left, on-location with her actors)

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT screens Sunday June 11 and Saturday June 17 at the Sydney Film Festival. Further ticketing and session information can be found at the event’s official website

Friday
May262017

THE GATEWAY BUG: THE JOHANNA B. KELLY INTERVIEW

Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, may be the ecological ‘get out of jail’ card the planet needs. So say the band of cricket-munching, fly-swallowing, moth-chewing experts featured in The Gateway Bug, the fascinating and wildly entertaining advocacy documentary to screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Alongside collaborator Cameron Marshad (“The grasshopper tacos are incredible”), director Johanna B. Kelly hopes their film will be at the forefront of a new era of environmentally sustainable food consumption in western culture. “By the time I’m a grandma, we’re going to be looking at a very different food landscape,” the Melbourne-born filmmaker tells SCREEN-SPACE from her New York residence…

SCREEN-SPACE: What first impressed you that alternative food sourcing and specifically a bug-based diet would fill a feature documentary?

KELLY: I first heard about entomophagy over brunch when one of our main characters, marine biologist Tyler Isaac, was explaining the overfishing problem. We are fishing wild fish to feed farmed fish and he explained how illogical that was and how insects could perform that function, using far less resources. The same can be applied to human consumption. That’s when I was also introduced to the edible insect consumer products already on the market. He shared the UN warning from 2013 that food production must increase 70% by 2050 but warned that's impossible, referencing a now very famous paper that entomophagy was a viable alternative option. We discussed how 50% of grain is fed to livestock and that feeding livestock insects could reduce greenhouse emissions immensely; how insects release far less ammonia and methane than pigs and cattle; and, how they take up less space and water. They have twice the protein of beef, more calcium than milk, all 9 essential amino acids and more iron than spinach. A global shift to an ento/plant-based diet would reduce mortality 10% and cut up to 70% of Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050. By the end of brunch, we were in total agreement that a doc must be made to share all of this. (Pictured, top; from l-r, Cameron Marshad and Johanna B. Kelly).

SCREEN-SPACE: I like the stylised way in which you present your arguments, including the use of animation, on-screen text and archival content. How was the tone of the film decided upon?

KELLY: We started simplistically, researching interview subjects, conducting interviews and building our story. As the editing, scripting and story building progressed, we realized that animations would help visualize some of the more complex arguments presented. We began to feel that talking heads were boring and information about how our environment got to it’s current state could be shared using footage from 50 years ago; it’s fascinating to see that the exact issues we face now were raised as concerns back then. As a cinephile, I couldn’t resist trawling through months of archival to prove that actually none of this is new news. I adore Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake, 2015; Hypernormalisation, 2016) and his masterful weaving of archival footage to describe current affairs so that probably influenced my style for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: You were blessed with some fascinating personalities. Do you believe these are the men and women who can lead the charge for food industry reform? What personality traits bind them and their chosen paths?

KELLY: These personalities were part of what drove us to create the feature. Given Tyler’s brunch spiel had inspired us to make the film and that we met Sonny and Kevin early on, we knew we had some great stories with them alone. The personality traits that bind them are an honest desire for acquiring the knowledge necessary to help solve the major crisis we currently face. This takes bravery and fearlessness, so I do think they will all make a difference. But the point of the film is that all of us possess an element of that desire to do good in the world and help heal the past to protect our future. I’m an optimist; I believe that armed with knowledge, people behave in altruistic ways. After watching our film, our audiences can become empowered to make those changes to their lifestyles, which in turn influences others to make those changes. I sincerely hope that these characters are the starting point for a revolution of empowered armchair activists to change the world through their own diets and habits. The onus doesn’t necessarily rest entirely on those characters to achieve that personally but on all of us to heed their call. (Pictured, above; model Terese Pagh with a cricket-based protein bar, The Gateway Bug)

SCREEN-SPACE: Were you conscious of not just 'preaching to the converted', of not allowing entomophagy to appear to be a 'hipster trend'?

KELLY: We were mindful to retain as much journalistic integrity as possible. It was critical to us that our film come across in the form we discovered it, by letting individuals share their stories and enlightening the audience that way. It was one of the primary reasons we avoided narration or VO. And entomophagy isn’t a hipster trend; over 2 billion people worldwide practice it. It’s more of a cultural shift that the West may or may not be ready for. Irrespective, there is no reason we can’t consider shifting animal diets and the way we respect food and food waste. The idea is to start with what can work and move on from there. A great analogy is sushi. 80s’ yuppies being exotic made it big in the West but in Japan it was just regular food. So it’s not such a stretch to see a similar progressive shift towards insect eating in our society.

SCREEN-SPACE: Since filming finished, there is a new administration with a more regressive, pro-'big business' agenda that will only strengthen the traditional industrial agricultural sector. What does the future hold for alternative sector start-ups and entrepreneurs such as those in your film?

KELLY: I worry that more critical to the success of these industries is the new administration’s regressive attitude on climate change. Attitudes impact policy, which in turn affects subsidies and investment. All of these companies rely on a common understanding of current scientific opinion to ensure progress is made and awareness maintained. I remain optimistic that global attitudes towards science being real and common sense surrounding what we can see with our own eyes will prevail ultimately. Flint, Michigan isn’t getting clean water any time soon. To quote Alanis Obomsawin, “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Our dream is that it doesn’t have to come to that for individuals to start changing habits. (Pictured, above; ground cricket powder)

SCREEN-SPACE: You never turn the camera on yourself so; the big question is - what bugs have you eaten?

KELLY: Ah, a great time to point out that people with shellfish allergies should not eat insects! Having experienced anaphylaxis twice now, I have avoided them to preserve my life. Cameron however adores them. He frequently noshes on dry roasted crickets at his desk and enjoys the protein bars. He says his favourite insect product he’s tasted is the black soldier fly larvae you see Dave Gracer try at the end of the film at the Eating Insects Detroit conference. Although not a product being sold on the market to consumers currently, apparently it tastes like curry butter and he talked about it for months after we’d left so he certainly sold me on it!

THE GATEWAY BUG screens at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 16. Ticket and session details via the event's official website.

'The Gateway Bug' Trailer - A documentary feature film about feeding humanity in an uncertain age from Cameron Marshad on Vimeo.

Thursday
Feb182016

WATER WORLD: THE ANGIE DAVIS INTERVIEW.

From her home in the Byron Bay hinterland, Angie Davis has reached across oceans and continents to tell the story of Lobitos and its people. The Peruvian coastal village, its self-sustained emergence from under the shadow of ‘big oil’ and the surfing culture that has helped reform the region’s innate strength are examined in Double Barrel, the journalist-turned-filmmaker’s picturesque and deeply humanistic documentary.

In the US to support the festival rollout of her debut long-form work before returning home for the Australian premiere on February 27, Davis (pictured, above) spoke at length to SCREEN-SPACE about her love for the Lobitos community and how their struggle has inspired her, creatively and intellectually… 

What made the culture and people of Lobitos so alluring to you?

The people of Lobitos live a simplistic lifestyle without the modern comforts that we are accustomed to in the West. The rawness of north Peru’s coastal regions make for a number of complexities, such as a dramatic lack of rain, clean drinking water, and fertile soil. The locals are dependent on the ocean for food sources, yet the oil industry combined with commercial overfishing has significantly affected the fish stocks. Local fishermen have to venture further out to sea, in small boats or handmade balsa rafts at night, to hook a decent catch, which translates to greater running costs. I respect the local fishing community for enduring such hardships, while living with big smiles on their faces. And now the son’s of fishermen from the area are getting into surfing and living their lives around the tides and swells. It is this ocean-inspired lifestyle with the backdrop of the raw Peruvian desert that drew me to the area. 

How has the emergence of a modern surf culture integrated with the traditions of the township?

It hasn’t been so seamless. Lobitos was created as an oil town 100 years ago by BP, became one of the richest towns in Peru, and then fell to ruins when the lefts took power in the 60s, expelling all foreign oil companies from the country. In the 90s, the beaches attracted the affluent surfers from Lima who built hostels and surf lodges straight onto the shoreline, which wasn’t exactly welcomed by the existing community who lived back off the ocean a few blocks inland. Surfing has definitely put Lobitos on the map, both domestically and internationally, but the rate of development is alarming. A combination of profit-driven objectives and an ignorant lack of knowledge about how delicate sand-bottom surf breaks are to the movements of sand, tides and wind (means) overdevelopment on the beachfront can lead to the complete destruction of the town’s primary profitable resource - the waves (pictured, right; Davis with environmental advocate and big wave surfer Harold Koechlin and an Andean local). 

Double Barrel balances a human-interest story, environmental/social issues and sports travelogue elements. How did you reconcile your objectivity of a journalist and empathy of a social commentator?

This story was close to my heart. I started writing humanitarian journals for Amnesty International and throwing fundraisers for Surfrider Foundation from when I was 18. I was a surfer with a burning desire to travel and soon recognized a link between great waves being located in underprivileged regions and wanted to explore that more. I was working on a luxurious surf travel piece when I found myself in Peru, but abandoned that story when I saw first-hand that Lobitos was not ready for an influx of wealthy surf tourists. I decided that a film would give Lobitos a chance to move forward more sustainably and challenge audiences to consider their role in the rise and fall of surf communities, or any developing communities, worldwide.

Which filmmakers inspired you? 

I grew up with Taylor Steele’s surf movies. My interview with him on his film Sipping Jetstreams was my first published magazine piece, and I watched him evolve as a filmmaker from action-packed surf films to more travel-inspiring cinematic ‘journey’ pieces. Taylor was a great mentor on Double Barrel. In the end I wanted to make a surf film with ‘everyday’ people that everyone could relate to, with inspiring travel cinematography supporting a story that inspires hope. Too often environmental films finish with that feeling of “wow, I have no idea what I can do to help save the world.” Double Barrel highlights marine environment protection initiatives like the Juntos Por Las Playas Del Norte, a project that was inspired by our efforts making the film. 

The impact of industry on a population and their natural habitat is key to Double Barrel. How did your experiences living in Japan at a time of enormous hardship influence the film?

The Japanese disaster in 2011 was devastating. After the earthquake, we were forced to evacuate for what started as one night but eventually turned into about three months of uncertain life on the road. Nothing could prepare you for living through something like that. The aftershocks were constant and powerful, the constant threat of tsunami was exhausting, not to mention the unknown consequences of the Fukushima fallout. As someone who surfed, swam or walked alongside the ocean daily, and with a one-year-old toddler and being pregnant at the time, the entire experience was life changing. When I first visited north Peru and saw the aging refineries and platforms so close to the shore, the thought of what could happen brought up so much pain inside of me. My experience in Japan made me feel there was an urgency to make this film. I couldn’t bare to see another place I love and the people who inhabit it become so devastated by the consequences of building industry right on the coast. Surviving an event like Fukushima stays with you forever, but it has to be taken as an opportunity to grow and evolve from the experience. 

What are your thoughts on ‘film’ as a force for change? How would you define the relationship between your artistic vision for Double Barrel and the message you had to impart? 

Until I went to Peru and had the idea to make Double Barrel, I had never desired to be a filmmaker. I loved storytelling through writing and producing. Taylor had done a short film for Charity Water in Ethiopia, and helped raise $1million for fresh water wells. I was blown away by how much documentary film could appeal to a global audience, and actually impact developing communities. I knew I had to have a script and storyboard, so that it had structure and context. I didn’t really know a thing about filmmaking, but I knew I wanted the film to be of the highest quality possible, and placed myself around geniuses in their fields that were also passionate about the project. Dustin Hollick was a surfing ambassador for Patagonia who had made surf films growing up in Tassie, including a film ‘El Gringo’ which had sequences from Peru, so I went to him with the script knowing I could trust him. I could not have made the film without him. Dustin recognized my emotion to the place and knew that had to be included in the film, resulting in a transparency that tells the story as it truly happened. Cinematographer Tim Wreyford had previously shot Mick Fanning’s ‘Missing’ film and we shot the first half of the film together. Then I returned with Alejandro Berger who is one of the world’s best water photographers (pictured, above; Davis, left, whith her key crew members). I wanted to combine the format of surf films with longer music-driven surf and travel montages that would give a real sense of the place. We learnt a lot of lessons the hard way, and threw in a lot of our own money to get this off the ground, but the response so far has been incredible. I am very proud of everyone for sticking with it.

A Switchboard Media production, Double Barrel has its Australian premiere in Byron Bay on February 27. Ticket and venue information available here.

Tuesday
Jan262016

THE POWER OF ONE: THE PHILLIP VIANNINI INTERVIEW

With his director Jonathan Taggart, producer Phillip Viannini spent two years documenting the off-grid existence of the sustainable communities in some of Canada’s most extreme wilderness. The result is Life Off Grid, a picturesque and profound insight into the commitment needed to live disconnected from the accepted fossil fuel-driven culture of western society. A Professor and Research Chair at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada, Viannini (pictured, below) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the vast range of personalities his lens captured, the harsh realities of off-grid living and what Australia can do to further the off-grid cause…

When did you first become aware of the Lasqueti Island ‘Off Grid’ movement, whose residents are central to Life Off Grid?

I visited an off-grid home for the first time in 2008 whilst researching small island lifestyles and I became fascinated by the idea of living in such a different home. Where I live, the Salish Sea archipelago, many islands are off-grid and even those on-grid make use of renewable energy and practice sustainable living. I was first exposed to the Lasqueti community by a student of mine who, incidentally, now lives in Australia. When Jon and I travelled to Lasqueti for the first time I had already visited a few homes on Vancouver Island.  

Via beautiful widescreen images, you capture some extreme locales at their most photogenic. How did you settle on the aesthetics of your film?

Jon and I discussed the aesthetics of the film throughout our travels. We operated on a very small budget and, like many off-gridders--we had to make virtue out of necessity and sought beauty in simplicity. Everything we needed had to be carried by us, on our backs and hands. To get places, we had to bike, canoe, kayak, skidoo, walk, or fly small bush planes. We often stayed at off-grid cabins that we rented for the duration of our travels. Recharging batteries at the end of the day wasn't always easy so we had to carry as little equipment as we needed to recharge. So what you see is the result of a ‘Spartan’ aesthetics: one that would be as mundane as the images and sounds we captured, and therefore one as unassuming and genuine. That's why we have no aerial scenes, no camera tricks, no flashy stuff. We just let our eyes and ears dwell on what was before us--whether that was a live tree or a piece of firewood--and let that come to life. 

How has off-grid living benefitted the Lasqueti community in a ‘human’ sense? How has this living improved their outlook on life?

Practicing an off-grid lifestyle teaches anyone that life isn't easy. It's not meant to be easy. The notion that easy living, extreme comfort, and constant convenience are somehow a modern right--a cornerstone of consumer society and culture--makes absolutely no sense when you live off-grid. Whatever you get, you have to work for. And that has an interesting effect: work's results are more pleasant, easier to enjoy. Anyone who grows their own food will tell you the same thing: vegetables and fruits taste better when you work hard to grow them yourself. Living off grid is not simple, at all, but it allows you to enjoy and cultivate the simple pleasures that your labour yields. 

Has experiencing such commitment to the cause changed your views on the sustainable, off-grid culture?

It has taught both Jon and I that everything has a cost. Before I began this project I would give no thought whatsoever to simple domestic acts such as using a toaster or a microwave. Now I know how many watts/hours those appliances draw. And I am aware of the sources of electricity that generate those watts. I can tell you the precise dams that feed my house. And I know what those dams do to the local ecology.

Some of your subjects are intellectuals, academic types, who have embraced sustainable living philosophies largely because they are financially able to do so. Is off-grid ever going to be an option for the layman?

I can only recall one academic we interviewed. The reality is that most of the 200 or so people we spoke with are carefully self-taught. They're DIY craftsmen and craftswomen who have taught themselves how to wire their house or collect water or build a compost toilet. Some of these people were financially stable. Others lived below the poverty line. Most were middle class. Off-grid living is an option for anyone who is willing to (learn), regardless of income. If you want 50 coastal acres in British Columbia and require a 4 KW/h system to answer your every domestic wish then you'll need a substantial amount of capital. (But) if you can live on a 10acre lot in the prairies and can get by with less than 1 KW/h, you can still live below the poverty line but have richer existence than most people who live on the grid.

Australia seems ideally suited to off-grid acceptance. What are the steps that government bodies and commercial interests can take to inspire action?

Having just visited Tasmania, I was impressed by the solar panels I saw everywhere. I know how much Australians have worked to make their water consumption sustainable. Like Canada, Australia has a densely concentrated population in a few regions and beyond that, there are massive rural and remote lands where the grid simply isn't an option. With the acceptance of a couple of provinces, Canada does little to encourage renewable energy generation, yet it still subsidizes and promotes fossil fuel harvesting. Australia could learn from Canada's bad example and invest more, much more than Canada can possibly do, in the biggest source of energy it has: the sun. Last time I checked on my travels, there was a lot of that.

Life Off Grid will be released in Australia via TUGG Distribution on simultaneous theatrical and VOD platforms on February 4.

Thursday
Aug282014

DAY OF THE ANIMALS: THE MICHAEL DAHLSTROM INTERVIEW

Despite offering up one of the most confronting film experiences of the MIFF 2014 program, director Michael Dahlstrom is a happy man. His documentary, The Animal Condition examines our complex relationship with the animals we exploit and had just played to packed audiences for its World Premiere when he chatted with SCREEN-SPACE about the unique narrative structure he employs and finding the balance between harrowing expose and hopeful advocacy filmmaking…

“We sold out both sessions, which was surprising and great,” says Dahlstrom (pictured, below), a NIDA graduate, on the final day of an extensive media schedule that has accompanied the premiere of his debut feature. Audience reaction was exactly what he had hoped for, a passionate chorus of opinions from those involved in both the trade and protection of livestock. Says the director, “It became a spirited Q-&-A debate afterwards, lead by an intensive farmer and a free range farmer and a vegan activist, as well as plenty of the vocal public.”

Shot over four years, The Animal Condition underwent extensive shifts in focus and tone before it became the expansive, insightful advocacy work it is today. What begins as an adventure about four angry, wide-eyed inner-city types (at one point, rescued baby chickens dance on a piano keyboard) soon becomes a multi-tiered examination of industrialized farming and the emotional issues inherent to animal exploitation.

“In the beginning, we were definitely making a very deliberate activist film,” says Dahlstorm, who appears on-screen alongside producers Ande Cunningham, Sarah-Jane McAllan (pictured, below) and Augusta Miller. “Initially, we weren’t going to film ourselves. But as we started arguing about different points, we realised it might be interesting to capture the decision-making process we were going through. You can clearly see the filmmaking style change and us change as individuals as the narrative develops.”

The four friends engage the services of a radical animal activist who helps them gain illegal access to a battery hen factory; the sad footage turns shocking when, during the course of shooting, the live export controversy erupted and smuggled film of barbaric slaughter practices surfaced (see footage here; viewer discretion advised).  “That footage was informing the wider population at the same time as it was informing us and our filming,” says Dahlstrom, who remained mindful that the horrible minutiae of slaughterhouse reality is not always the most effective tool an activist can employ. “If you show really extreme footage, then people will have a knee-jerk reaction and they will switch off or react with the own extreme views.”

“What we wanted to capture was the realities of intensive farming facilities, but also the transition of animal welfare issue from fringe activism to something that all of Australia was talking about,” he says, confirming that The Animal Condition was designed to preach beyond the converted. “The audience that we had in mind was certainly the Australian public. We wanted to create a time capsule of what happened in 2009 up until the end of live exports.”

Ultimately, Dahlstrom’s film impacts due to a very even-handed approach, ensuring all parties involved in modern farming practices have time to air their points-of-view. Corporate heads, political leaders and intensive farmers are given as strong a voice as the pro-animal liberationists and traditional farmers. The film captures a turning point for a country that has proudly boasted of the wealth it has attained by ‘riding on the sheep’s back’, i.e. exploiting the rich, natural world for economic gain.

“I think for us to grow as a country we have to be self-reflective,” says the director. “If having an international eye on us makes us conscious of what we are doing and the example we set as a population, and this film helps to shine that kind of spotlight on us, then that can only help us as a nation.”

Michael Dahlstrom will be in attendance when The Animal Condition screens at the Sydney Underground Film Festival un Sunday, September 7. Full details can be found at the event website here.