The Why Foundation commissions, produces, and distributes documentary films – both features and shorts – with the goal of creating awareness and helping people understand and navigate our complex world. By donating these films, The Why aims to reach beyond the western world, to people in developing countries and where access to information is scarce. As part of their efforts, they also distribute their films to schools all over the world for educational purposes. The films in their programmes aim to have people reflect on big questions about impactful topics that affect our world today. All starting with a simple question: why?
Looking back at their programmes – with the first one going back to 2007 when they first completed and launched Why Democracy? – surprisingly many of their films stay as relevant as they were back then.
Waste, Valentin Thurn’s 2012 short part of the Why Poverty? programme is a mini version of his feature film Taste of Waste. Available to watch on The Why’s website, this short film is a collection of facts and reflections from people who work in the food industry throughout the European Union, whether in production, distribution, or management of all the food that remains. The film begins with one the fact that one-third of all food produced in the world lands in the trash. The price of overly abundant supermarkets is that a lot of food ends up being thrown away. The cost of that is included in the price we pay for the foods we do consume, but if economically feasible, is it also morally right? In its few minutes, the short distills all the factors determining this waste, from boosted offers in the shops to the strict criteria of quality in the EU, and to the way we classify food as no longer edible, to point to how a whole unquestioned process of supply and demand means food that could feed the hungry – three times round – goes in our garbage instead.
Every Year, Every Hour, Every Minute
Robin Glass’ 2016 powerful short Every Year, Every Hour, Every Minute part of the Why Women? programme, looks at the painfully large numbers of unplanned pregnancies in the developing world (74 million at that time) and the tragic outcomes of this – all in precise numbers, divided per year, day, hour and minute. The film doesn’t look at the effects of the resulting unplanned births – overpopulation, poverty – but at the number of all the women who are forced by choice, law, or circumstances to get an abortion. This summer, four years later, The World Health Organization highlighted a recently published research that shows despite the number of worldwide unplanned pregnancies is in decline, women in the poorest countries remain at great risk and suffer from a lack of access to safe and legal abortion care services. In a firm voiceover coupled with images of a woman pinning pregnancy ecographies to a wall and hurting herself in the process, the film turns numbers into an important emotional statement and a plea for solving a problem that remains relevant and urgent to this day.
Going back to The Why’s first program in 2007, Three Blind Man, Kanu Behl’s short is part of the Why Democracy? series and is inspired by an ancient Indian parable, that appears also in one Buddhist text. The parable tells of three blind men who have never come across an elephant before, and who learn to conceptualize what an elephant is by touching different parts of it. Each blind man touches a different part of the elephant and then describe the whole animal based on that experience. In the same way, in the film – three blind men touch an elephant on the busy Parliament Street, a street reserved for protests in Delhi. While people shout and scream making their political demands that day, the three men slowly touch the animal and describe what they sense. One believes it is a buffalo, the other one a camel, and the last wonders if it is a wall. The director adds the perspective of the mahout, who tells the viewers what the elephant means to him. The parallel with the parable makes a powerful metaphor for the cacophony of self-righteous – in this case political – opinions in the world when different sides believe to hold the ultimate truth. The moral of the ancient parable is that humans claim absolute truth based on their own limited and subjective experiences while ignoring others’ experiences which are also limited but can be equality true. Thirteen years after the making of this short, the symbolic meaning behind it stays as true as ever, just as the ancient parable does, inviting to reflection on what do we know and understand and what does that mean in relation to other people’s opinions and truths.
Featured Image: Every Year, Every Hour, Every Minute, a film by Robin Glass