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Wide-Angle 17.07.21 . 07:55 AM Update :17.07.21 . 11:51 PM

When cinema gets to work for the climate

Picture of the movie La panthère des neiges (The velvet queen)

Picture of the movie La panthère des neiges (The velvet queen) © Vincent Munier


What might the film industry's role be in response to the climate emergency? Do we really have the power to impact on our ecosystem? These questions that arise are made all the more pressing in light of the global situation, and are tackled as part of the Festival de Cannes. This 74th edition's ephemeral but nonetheless comprehensive selection of films on the subject of the environment offers up a captivating window onto the solutions available to each and every one of us as spectators and enablers of change. One fiction film and six documentaries, each as hard-hitting as the last, serving up a plethora of different approaches.

Catastrophe comes calling

One technique involves pointing a finger, shining a light on one aspect of the world in all its raw and uncomfortable reality. This is the angle that Zhao Liang chooses to embrace with his ambitious I'm So Sorry on the dangers of nuclear power, as does Rahul Jain's Invisible Demons and its look at the terrifying impact of fine particles in India. Sobering observations that force us to question the status quo.

Activist adventures

Author, poet, eco-warrior and director Cyril Dion takes a polar opposite approach.

"So many films look at the future, and these are always apocalyptic stories. But where are the films that imagine the future differently, that examine how we might find a way through? If we don't allow our imaginations free rein to roam these regions of our mindscapes, we will forever remain trapped in our perception of the world as it is today. Our creativity is crying out for release."

Six years after the successful Tomorrow (Demain), Animal seeks to restore hope by encouraging us to reflect on our relationship with the living world.

"The film industry has an important role to play in light of this emergency. It can offer us new ways of seeing, new paths to take. Filmmakers could seize on the issue of climate change to explore what it means to them, start imagining what the world might look like if we did what we need to do."

The documentaries by Flore Vasseur and Cyril Dion give young people a platform on which to speak out. Animal sounds the alarm with respect to the collapse of biodiversity, and follows teenagers Bella and Vipulan as they travel the world on a mission to find meaning and tangible solutions. In Bigger Than Us, Flore Vasseur (Meeting Snowden, 2017) shows us the young people who are creating change, standing up and being counted across the world.

"We need to consider the climate as a symptom of a much wider state of breakdown: our dysfunctional society. Our children need reasons to live."

Shining a light on local realities

With her documentary Marcher sur l’eau (Above Water), Aïssa Maïga tells the tale of a Nigerian village suffering from the effects of global warming: their struggle to access water, the key to their survival. The villagers have not helped create global warming. Yet they are nevertheless the frontline victims.

"Cinema is part of a wider whole. The question now is how we shape an ecosystem that links politicians, artists, and society. Reconnecting spaces that don't necessarily act in step with one another. A new generation of filmmakers is on the rise, up-and-coming directors who will not agree to these films remaining on the fringes."


Louis Garrel's La Croisade (The Crusade) was co-written with Jean-Claude Carrière, and brings us a funny fictional satire inspired by generational conflict surrounding the climate emergency, painting a portrait of a couple left shellshocked when they discover their son has sold off the family heirlooms to fund a secret mission to save the planet.

An ode to the world

In La Panthère des neiges (The Velvet Queen), Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier treat us to a poetic documentary that illustrates the beauty of our world, as Marie Amiguet's lens trails Sylvain Tesson and Vincent Munier on their journey up to the mountain-top plateaux of Tibet, following in the tracks of the elusive snow leopard.

"Slowing down, observing, shrugging off our blinkers, taking in the beauty that surrounds us. It sounds simplistic, but these are incredibly powerful sensations."

As part of the high-profile Festival de Cannes, some of these films' filmmakers took part in a press conference centred on the theme of climate change, an event that provided a platform for passionate perspectives and incisive debates, bringing together both directors and Bella Lack, Vipulan Puvaneswaran, and Melati Wusen, the young activists who star in the films by Flore Vasseur and Cyril Dion.

Written by Charlotte Pavard

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