Quick question: How do you feel about cardboard?
Unless your name is Fuyuki Shimazu, the subject of this documentary, your honest answer would probably have to be “I don’t have strong feelings about it either way’. Until today, it was virtually impossible for me to imagine anyone responding any differently. Well, Fuyuki Shimazu loves cardboard.
It all started when he was a poor student wanting a wallet of his own but not able to afford one. Left with only two choices- do without for awhile or get creative- he made himself one out of cardboard. I can’t remember offhand if he made it from cardboard he found in the garbage or if he started doing that later.
Fuyuki’s outside the box thinking turned into a passion and eventually a career. Searching the warehouses and dumpsters all over japan, he began to collect cardboard that caught his eye and began to make a living off of making and selling wallets. And they’re nicer than you might think. Seen through Fuyuki’s eyes, yeah, I can sort of see it. I wouldn’t have noticed before but there are a lot of cardboard boxes out there with eye-catching designs.
It’s not easy to know what to make of Fuyuki at first as he travels the country to various factories to learn the stories and inspirations behind his favourite cardboard boxes. he worked at a prestigious advertising firm for 3 years as an art director where his colleagues said things like “Whenever you talk, it’s always about cardboard”, “He’s a different kind of species”, and “We have all sorts of employees so he was not the only weird one, but…”. He’s a likable guy though and seems to be able to make friends with anyone. His enthusiasm, if not exactly contagious, is endearing, inspiring, and unquestionably genuine. He’s a great subject for a documentary and director Ryusuke Okajima is smart to keep the focus mostly on him.
There’s a more universal point to all this, of course, about upcycling. With Earth’s resources dwindling as they are… Oh never mind. Just watch the movie. I promise it’ll be worth your time. And if you’re as burnt out on documentaries about the environment as I am, you’ll be relieved to know that Okajima doesn’t belabor this point and only mentions it in any detail towards the end. Fuyuki Shimazu and his wallets are fascinating and From All Corners is wise to keep the focus mostly on them.
Teenagers. They think they know it all, don’t they? They have this unbearable self-righteousness. They can take a motorboat to testify about the dangers posed by oil tankers and not feel a little hypocritical, not even a bit. The big picture is missed. Kayak to Klemtu, Zoe Hopkins’ first feature, finds itself in the same quandary. Various problems arise, the characters deal with them as they come, and then the scene shifts to the next problem, without ever engaging with anything of significance.
I wished throughout that I got to know the characters. Too often, characters would appear solely to serve the plot or provide a moral question of some sort, and then disappear once they had set up that segment of the film. Discussions that would seem to be important often didn’t end up happening, whether it was the reason why the teenagers’ parents left Klemtu in favour of Vancouver, or why a mother and son never asked each other how they felt during their husband/father’s battle with cancer.
Those missing details pile quite high by the end of the film. By focusing so heavily on a crusade for environmental protection, Kayak to Klemtu misses the bigger picture. Paradoxically, the “bigger picture” here was one small family in mourning, looking for ways to cope with the loss of a loved one. Their journey takes a back seat to the film’s anti-pipeline, pro-conservation message, and it should have been the other way around.
With so many beautiful shots of the northern British Columbia coastline to be found in Kayak to Klemtu, the conservation message would not have been lost if the characters had been driving the film instead. If anything, the message would have been more impactful, as the onscreen journey through B.C.’s coastal waters argues more effectively in favour of conservation than a monologue ever could.
There’s a grocery store in Brooklyn that’s 5 times busier than other markets in the area; it’s a food co-op, where members trade labour for access to the best and freshest food sources.
The Park Slope food co-op is kind of great in an old-fashioned way, with so many people from all walks of life willing to put in work (2h45m monthly) in order to keep labour costs down for the greater good of this beloved co-op. And it clearly is very much loved. It offers locally sourced, often organic products for 40% cheaper than you’d find in luxury grocery stores, and the food on offer here is much, much better.
The documentary Food Coop, by directors Thomas Boothe and Maellanne Bonnicel, explores this strange beast that exists in the shadows of Wall Street but thrives on a different kind of economy, one that is community-minded and fair. For the people who work and shop there, it fosters a neighbourly spirit where people are making connections with each other, and with the food grown within just a few miles of them. The film also serves as a guide book of sorts for others who might be interested in starting up a co-op. It’s a viable alternative system that seems to have few drawbacks. It’s democracy in action, good food in the belly, and a more planet-friendly approach to food and consumer culture. There’s a lot to be learned, but one of those lessons is just that the personalities that keep a food co-op running successfully over decades are quirky and varied. The people watching is almost as good as the system is tempting.
Inspired by the OG gangster gardener, Ron Finley, film maker Delila Vallot gets to know the people taking up gardening in South Central Los Angeles and follows them for a year to see if the simple act of growing things can in fact transform someone’s life.
Can You Dig This? is Planet In Focus Film Festival’s closing night film and it’s one you’ll enjoy watching as much as you enjoy learning from it.
Compton is a food desert – the neighbourhoods are packed with fast food joints and liquor stores, but the sale of healthful food is rare. Ron Finley thought it reasonable that he should therefore get to growing some right in his very own yard, but doing so attracted the ire of a neighbour who reported him. A cease and desist letter from the city made him think twice – not about the rightness of gardening his own land, but about the rightness of this world. Never before motivated to activism, Finley took up the cause, providing free soil so that others could plant too. Now you’ll find the neighbourhoods dotted with planters, and if you think that’s interesting, just wait until you meet the people who are cultivating them.
The film follows a high school dropout cum drug dealer, a woman who is gang-affiliated, a little girl who wants to grow greens for her diabetic dad (and wouldn’t mind making some cash on the side!), and a few elderly men living in a halfway house after extensive prison sentences. These are terrific subjects, each one revealing a little bit about their neighbourhood. You might not expect something as innocuous as gardening to stir up a lot of emotions, but when the film starts unpacking issues like the legacy of slavery contributing to the black community’s loss of contact with the soil, you start to realize how impactful this seemingly small act can be. Gardening as subversion? Yes, actually.
Not only is this documentary well done, it’s a fun and funny watch too. And inspiring, I don’t mind saying.
CAN YOU DIG THIS? plays at the Planet In Focus film festival in Toronto
Sunday 22 October, 7:45pm Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Ron Finlay will be in attendance
Greetings from Toronto’s Planet In Focus film festival, an environmental festival that highlights films that “question, explore, and tell stories about the world in which we live.”
Their opening night film is Chanda Chevannes’ Unfractured. It’s about fracking, but more than that, it’s about Dr. Sandra Steingraber, the tireless anti-fracking activist from upstate New York. The documentary follows her industrious and tenacious work to get her government to outlaw fracking. Chevannes follows her as she makes speeches, risks arrest at protests, and visits other countries to find out how others are dealing with this environmental disaster in the face of fierce opposition from its profiteers.
Dr. Steingraber is an eco-activist, a biologist, and a prolific writer on the topics of climate change and ecology. Her previous collaboration with Chevannes based on her highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment resulted in a documentary seen by millions. Unfractured is a further exploration of the topic, linking fracking not just to damage to the environment, but to terrible risks to the health of the people living anywhere near it.
Dr. Steingraber is also a wife and a mother. Even when her home life is shaky, she doggedly pursues her advocacy because she genuinely believes in health and safety not just for her own family but for her community. Her commitment to the cause is inspiring; I was particularly moved by “The antidote to despair and cynicism is to fight with your whole heart.” This documentary speaks to any of us who feel sometimes that the fight is just too big, that things are hopeless as they stand. As Steingraber puts it, “We are all members of a great human orchestra and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You do not have to play a solo, but you do have to know what instrument you hold and find your place in the score.”
OPENING NIGHT GALA & RECEPTION
Thursday, October 19, 2017
The Royal Cinema
6:30 PM (Doors Open at 6:00 PM)
Reception to follow at Revival Bar at 9:00 PM
Today is Earth Day. This year’s campaign is all about environmental and climate literacy. Historically people have “celebrated” Earth Day simply by shutting off their lights in the evenings, perhaps playing a board game rather than watching TV, which requires electricity. The Earth actually needs us to do more. This year there is a March For Science in Washington, DC, a rally and teach-in to defend the vital public service role science plays in our communities and our world. Is it crazy sad that such a rally is necessary? Yes it is.
In 2012, Nature published a study led by more than 20 researchers from the top scientific institutions
in the world predicting that humankind could disappear between 2040 and 2100. Like, extinction! But it also said
that it could be avoided by drastically changing our way of life if we take appropriate measures right now. Scientists are always telling us this and we’re always not listening. Well, listening maybe, but not really willing to change our lifestyle. But a bunch of French film makers got together and decided to try to rattle our cages a bit.
Tomorrow is a documentary that doesn’t just hit us over the head with the problem but rather offers solutions. For the coming food shortage, they explore urban agriculture, microfarming, and permaculture. As to our reliance on fossil fuels, they visit places that are moving successfully toward renewable resources, cities declaring themselves carbon neutral. They also tackle some of the big things holding us back: economy and government. Since democracy runs on the steam of big business, how can we ever move away from consumerism?
There are lots of important questions to consider in this work by Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent, but the greatest takeaway is that of hope. If the documentary is a little too ambitious to keep laser focus, it at least presents viable solutions , things you and I can do in our very own communities that will make a difference.
Tomorrow is in theatres in New York and L.A. in time for Earth Day, and a wider release will follow. It’s required viewing for those of us who want to leave this planet in better condition than we found it.