If I was to choose one single reason for moving to Bergen, would not the rain, the mountains, the fjords nor the people have made it. I would only utter one word: BIFF. Bergen International Film Festival makes Bergen, Norway and perhaps even the world bigger, cooler and more important. Or to cite the Bergens Tidende newspaper commentator Frøy Gudbrandsen who wrote about this year’s festival: BIFF cures Norwegian short sightedness.
Ever since I skipped economics, linear algebra and anthropology lectures to watch films in the mid-2000s, I dreamt about returning to BIFF. Now I am finally back.
The festival has just become even more interesting. This year, a separate climate festival formed part of the programme. Among the offerings was the French Tomorrow (read the review on «Concrete measures to save tomorrow» in Modern Times), a lightweight, artistic and life-affirming film attempting to focus on solutions rather than concentrate on the catastrophes of the climate debate.
Grey and important. Canadian Spaceship Earth falls into the more traditional climate segment. The film is informative, gloomy and talks at length about the problems. When the Bergen city climate councillor Julie Andersland (V) opened the BIFF climate festival, she stated that she found it odd that we still needed such a festival – as it is easy to believe that most people already know very well what the climate crisis will lead to. Despite this, it becomes quickly evident that many people still need enlightment.
Spaceship Earth by Canadian Kevin McMahon is a film which specifically serves the enlightenment purpose: It is a film you want to show the climate-sceptical uncles you encounter at a family dinner. But, at its base it is simultaneously very beautiful and poetic: the sentiments of ecologically-minded US architect, social critic and futurist Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) that we are all astronauts on board «spaceship Earth» travelling through the dark space armed with our limited resources. The film takes a useful historical sweep over when it started to go so very wrong with humankind’s use of resources. How oil, since the consumption started in the 1860s, has helped drive modernity, but has simultaneously helped push the planet off the cliff.
These are gloomy developmental traits which are being described again, and which are probably helpful as an educational tool, but compared with the catchy Tomorrow, Spaceship Earth comes across as rather rigid. It is drabber and less playful – the contents are at the fore.
Some of the interesting elements that are uncovered towards the end, is the retrospective look at the Japanese Tokugawa-period (1603–1868), also known as the Edo-period. Here, the idea of growth was absent: last year’s outcome is the goal for this year’s result. Another fascinating part of the film is the sequence where the role of the media is discussed, and how a major newspaper such as the New York Times is so closely linked with consumerism that it will never be fully critical of the consumer society. Another reason to applaud the British newspaper The Guardian, which this year declared the climate fight as its most important item.
Down the mine shaft. I have always struggled with my relationship to demolished mountains. The bedrock’s – the sturdiest there is – irrevocable transformation to gravel and sand, can be a provocation in itself. It will never return. Gone for all eternity.
Chinese Zhao Liang’s impressive documentary set on the Mongolian plains where the Chinese coal hunt destroys all life, is a masterpiece. Behemoth is the eponymous hippo-like monster found in the Book of Job, which today refers to a gigantic unit. And the mining activities at the fringes of the Chinese industrialisation – which we benefit from through cheap consumer goods – is probably the closest we get a monstrous underworld.
We look into the bloodshot, dirty eyes, and follow minute by minute, an industrial married couple’s attempts to wash the coal off their bodies using a wet cloth.
Liang provides us a lingering, poetic artist’s look at the obliteration of blissful pastures, the cavernous hell of mining shafts and not least the people whose lives are being destroyed from working in them.
Watching Behemoth purges any inclinations of industrial romance. In long sequences we are taken by an elevator down the mines and into the furnaces. We look into the bloodshot, dirty eyes, and follow minute by minute, an industrial married couple’s attempts to wash the coal off their bodies using a wet cloth.
Make the world meaningful. We are, according to Liang, in the place where all hope dies and is substituted by an enormous sadness for all that disappears. You become sad, despondent and feel powerless by watching this film. It is impossible to remain indifferent. As such, Behemoth is a typical example of how important documentary is as a genre, and how vital film festivals are for providing images of how the far sides of our consumer production chains look.
Cinema used to be termed world theatre. Bergen’s BIFF is world theatre circa 2016. The exposure of the world’s latest fiction and reality makes the world meaningful, and creates important hooks to hang the forever fluctuating world events. These film occcasions absolutely cure our short-sightedness, and give us a foresight into reality. Our next task is to discover how to deal with it.