Environmental cinema is a genre that address questions related to the environment as a central topic for the future of humanity. Journalists, scientists, activists and artists, among others share heightened concern over the environment. In Brazil, there has been a recent growth of film festivals that focus on the environment and climate change. Environmental cinema, however, is not a formal category but instead is a term applied to films with environmental topics in the world of cinema. Thus, using environmental cinema as a film category is somewhat problematic.
Speaking at the International Festival of Environmental Cinema and Video (FICA) in 2003, film scholar Ismail Xavier expressed concern about films that are cinematically limited but still praised because they raise questions that are considered urgent from political and ideological standpoints. For Xavier, the problem is that a cinematically limited film does not have the same capacity to inspire reflection as a film that integrates aesthetics. In other words, the capacity of a film to generate discussion and remain relevant is based on the rigor of its construction.
However, according to T. J. Demos, in times of urgency, it is more important for arts to generate reflection, to give form to an issue, than to focus solely on aesthetics. Environmental cinema is often limited by budget and market potential rather than the artistic ability and sociopolitical consciousness of the filmmakers. Do these films remain marginal because of their construction quality? How can a filmmaker from Brazil and one from the US who share sociopolitical concerns have equal cinematic voice if the circumstances to produce aesthetically rigorous films are unequal? What happens when the local environmental issues in Brazil do not comply with Western thought?
The Brazilian animation world has addressed these issues. Through the motion of the anima, that is, the “soul,” Brazilian animators have been recognized for their work, which tackles political and ideological concerns with rigorous aesthetic presence despite the lack of access to sophisticated means of production. They present issues from a standpoint that do not comply with Western thought: in the video montage Morphing [above], I use two such films, The Me Bird and Tyger, that illustrate a sense of individual and planetary freedom that comes when humans morph into animals, an idea that is present in some Amazonian cosmologies.
The perspective of indigenous cosmologies has been debated for over two decades. The Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro argues for a redefinition of the classical categories of “nature,” “culture,” and “supernature.” The redefinition is based on the way in which Amazonian cosmologies view humans, animals and spirits relating to themselves and other beings, in contrast with the Western view. Castro’s study argues in particular that the antinomy between two characterizations of indigenous thought—ethnocentrism, which would deny the attributes and rights of humanity to beings of other species, and animism, which would extend human qualities and rights to beings of other species—can be resolved if the difference between the spiritual and corporal aspects of beings is taken into consideration.
The video montage Morphing reflects upon the ability and difficulties that sociopolitically engaged Brazilian filmmakers face when they insert themselves in the world environmental discourse through their animations. The montage includes four films: three short films shown in their entirety—Before It’s Too Late (Antes que seja tarde, Alexandre Dubiela, Brazil, 2014), The Me Bird (Maria Ilka Azêdo and Gabriel Kempers, Brazil, 2013) and Tyger (Guilherme Marcondes, Brazil, 2008)—and a feature length film The Boy and the World (Alê Abreu, Brazil, 2013) shown in part. The montage illustrates that, although environmental concerns are discussed through the medium of film, they do not necessarily move forward. Films are easily consumed and our contemplation of them is constantly subjected to distraction. However, in the montage, the viewing of each film is interrupted violently, disrupting contemplation and the easy consumption of the images.
The time has come to unify conversations through the development of a common language for sustainable development that transcends differences.
Alexandre Dubiela (Before It’s Too Late / Antes que seja tarde, Brazil, 2014) is a Brazilian filmmaker from Belo Horizonte. In his film, a tyrant king exploits the resources of the planet until their last drop. Dubiela wanted to criticize “the irresponsible and unbridled consumption of the planet, and discuss the issue of sustainability as a solution to improve man’s relationship with the planet.”
Maria Ilka Azêdo and Gabriel Kempers (The Me Bird, Brazil, 2013) are two Brazilian filmmakers from Rio de Janeiro. The film is a free interpretation of the homonym poem by Pablo Neruda. According to Azêdo and Kempers, “the strata stencil technique [was] used to create a repetition of layers that represent the past of our movements and actions. The frames, depicted as jail, and the past, depicted as a burden, serve[d] as the background for the story of a ballerina on a journey towards freedom.”
Guilherme Marcondes, (Tyger, Brazil, 2008) is a Brazilian filmmaker from São Paulo. The film is an interpretation of the homonym poem by William Blake. Marcodes was interested in portraying “how the environment we live in changes and conditions our personalities.”
Alê Abreu (The Boy and the World, Brazil, 2013) is a Brazilian filmmaker from São Paulo. The film follows the story of a little boy who finds his happy rural existence shattered when his father has to find work in the big city. In Abreu’s view, the main theme was “the loss and search for a father . . . in the sense of homeland. [To discuss] how these Latin American countries, born as exploited colonies with such difficult “childhoods” and marked by military dictatorships that served specific economic interests, came into today’s globalized world.”