(AFP) – “Avatar: The Way of the Water” is far from being the only film to defend the environment at the Oscars: beyond James Cameron’s ecological fable, set on the imaginary planet of Pandora, some named documentaries warn of the very real destruction of the Earth.
From the opaque pollution of New Delhi in India to the disappearance of sea ice in Siberia, “All We Breathe” and “Haulout” each tackle complex subjects to highlight the devastation of climate change caused by man and its dependence on fossil fuels.
Coming from the Yakut people, Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva offer a short film on the disaster that strikes the walruses of their native Siberia, because of the melting ice.
Entitled “Haulout”, their film follows marine biologist Maxim Chakilev, who is responsible for studying the migration of this species on the austere Arctic coast of Russia. It features striking images: in front of the scientist’s hut, 100,000 walruses suddenly pile up on a previously deserted beach.
Fascinating, this spectacle later reveals a sad reality: the corpulent mammals agglutinate there because they have no other choice, because of the retreat of the pack ice. And this overpopulation has deadly consequences, as they crash into each other.
The first Yakut creators to be nominated for an Oscar, the two directors hope “to contribute to this conversation about the disastrous state of our planet”, explains Ms. Arbugaeva to AFP.
Brother and sister, the duo is in the front row to see the effects of global warming.
“Speaking from the native land, I think it’s very, very important”, continues the director. For her, having a local perspective allows you to achieve “something very personal (…), you talk about your own heart and the heart of your community which is breaking.”
– Birds in distress –
With “All we breathe”, Shaunak Sen sets his scene in India.
This feature film explores the devastating impact on animals of pollution in New Delhi, where the air is one of the dirtiest in the world.
The documentary follows three men at a self-funded veterinary clinic, who treat some of the hundreds of birds smashing to the ground daily from toxic fog around India’s capital.
Every day, whole cases of injured raptors arrive in their basement. The trio even carry out a daring rescue of a bird with a broken wing in the middle of the river.
“Hundreds of birds are falling from the sky every day. What amazes me is that people carry on as if everything is normal,” one of the men told his wife.
The film also discusses how the birds learned to feed on garbage, pick up cigarette butts to ward off pests, and sing higher pitches to communicate over Delhi’s noisy traffic.
This documentary tries to bring the public to “consider the entanglement of human and non-human life”, confides its director to AFP.
Because beyond the acrid air, many birds are also injured by the strings of wooden kites which the Indians are so fond of.
– New perspectives –
For Mr. Sen, “there should be a lot more” of environmental documentaries, “given the attention required by the condition of the planet”.
The director urges fellow filmmakers to embrace new perspectives, to direct “more sophisticated stories that make us think about the planet”, rather than focusing on “grim, doom and despair”.
His film begins with a shot of a pile of rubbish and gradually reveals the flora and fauna that have learned to thrive in this sordid environment.
Conversely, “Haulout” opens with the beauty of nature, before revealing the tragedy caused by the disappearance of the pack ice: the walruses arrive exhausted on a crowded beach, where many succumb under the weight of their congeners.
In a heartbreaking scene, a malnourished walrus calf brushes up against the body of its dead mother, before weakly attempting to swim out to sea.
During the filming, “my hands were shaking because I was so moved, I was crying, the camera was not stable,” recalls Ms. Arbugaeva. “Sometimes certain sequences were not usable. Key, crucial moments. But it’s just very difficult”.