Mark your calendar: Tales From Planet Earth, 2013

Image from Leviathan (2012), a film by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, courtesy of Arrête Ton Cinéma

The fourth installment of Tales From Planet Earth hits UW-Madison this November 1-3. As their website describes,

Tales From Planet Earth showcases environmental films from around the world on the belief issues don’t move people, stories do! To that end, we link compelling narratives of films to engagement efforts of community partners working for environmental and social justice in Wisconsin. The highlight of our efforts is a biennial film festival thematically journeying around the globe to explore how stories told through film shape our understanding of nature and inspire action on behalf of environmental justice and the diversity of life.

This is as cheap as a cheap date can get: “As always, all screenings are free and open to the public, no advanced ticket needed.” All seating is first-come, first-served, so you might want to plan to arrive a little early for smaller venues.

A number of food-related films will be a part of this year’s event. I’ve listed below the descriptions of each one that I spotted, including a pair of films on commercial fishing and a pair on trash. Head to the festival website for the full schedule, details on special events, and links to previews and/or official websites of many films.

Sons of the Land (2012)
Edouard Bergeon (88 min., color, HD Cam, France, In French with English subtitles)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, 1 p.m.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Sons of the Land screenshotIn 1999, Edouard Bergeon’s father became another of the 400 to 800 French farmers who commit suicide every year, suffering from despair at the crushing debt burdens suffered by modern farmers at the same time that their marginal profits continue to erode. In exploring his father’s story, Bergeon meets the Itards, a family of dairy farmers in southern France going through similar issues that overwhelmed his father. For 14 months, his camera penetrates into the heart of a modern farm family — its hopes and frustrations, intergenerational disagreements, debt burdens, family strife, but also abiding love and loyalty. In the end, from near-tragedy, the Itards find hope for a sustainable farming business model that might allow these sons of the land to pass their family farm on to another generation. Official selection of the IDFA, Eurodok, Vera, and Göteborg International Film Festivals. Film will be followed by a panel of local farmers and UW faculty discussing contemporary farming challenges.

Drifters (1929)
John Grierson (49 min., b&w, Blu-Ray, U.K.)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, Noon
UW Cinematheque

A landmark film from the father of the British documentary movement, in many ways Drifters was the first modern British documentary feature film. Training his lens on a disappearing traditional method of herring fishing in the British North Sea, Grierson’s portrait of the hard life of a commercial fisherman makes for an interesting pairing with a more recent film examining the same livelihood some 85 years later. (Screens with Leviathan)

Leviathan (2012)
Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (87 min., color, Blu-Ray, France/U.K./U.S.)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, Noon
UW Cinematheque

Lucien Castaing-Taylor has been hailed as one of the most innovative documentary filmmakers working today and is fast becoming a Madison favorite. Previous screenings of his films — Sweetgrass (2009) and Leviathan (2012) — have sold out at the Wisconsin Film Festival. So popular was Leviathan that we decided to bring it back once more, this time with the added benefit of Castaing-Taylor’s presence. Leviathan is unlike any film you’ve ever seen — a lush immersion in the sights, sounds, and sensations of life aboard a New England commercial fishing boat. Lacking a traditional narrative structure, the film nevertheless gets under your skin as you discover for yourself the hardships of this vocation. Official selection of over 25 international film festivals! Filmmaker scheduled to be in attendance. (Screens with Drifters)

Plastic Bag (2009)
Ramin Bahrani (18 min., color, Digital File, U.S.)
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 5 p.m.
The Marquee Theater at Union South

There it is. See it over there — that majestic bit of wildlife? It’s the . . . plastic bag. With tongue firmly in cheek, Ramin Bahrani elevates the humble plastic bag to the role of documentary star, using all the usual tropes of big budget wildlife films to underscore just how much trash such as plastic bags plays a role in human and non-human landscapes, interacting with us in ways similar to any natural wild animal. But the impacts of trash are obviously far from natural, as the film starkly illustrates at the end with the bag’s final migration to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating slick of plastic and garbage in the Pacific Ocean that may be as large as twice the size of the continental United States. (Screens with Trash Dance)

Trash Dance (2012)
Andrew Garrison (62 min., color, Blu-Ray, U.S.)
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 5 p.m.
The Marquee Theater at Union South

When we have trouble envisioning the future, it makes it more difficult to find reasons for optimism in our present day. Enter choreographer Allison Orr – her mission is to find visions of beauty and dance in our everyday life. But her latest project may be her most challenging yet: trying to find hope in trash collection. For several months, she works alongside the Austin, Texas sanitation workers — seeing in their movements and interactions with their equipment a beauty and a unique knowledge about place. Virginia, Don, Ivory, Orange and other workers are wary: just who is this crazy woman riding along on their trucks? With unbowed optimism, Orr wins them over, convincing them to volunteer for her dance project. Finally, the night of the outdoor performance arrives. The skies have been pouring rain. Some of the performers are still uncertain about their participation: a performance piece about trash collection!?!? Will anyone even show up? A glorious reminder of the power of individual vision to restore hope and to reshape our appreciation of the world. Winner of Audience Awards at the SXSW, Full Frame, Silverdocs, Woods Hole, Docuwest, Heartland, Sedona, and Rockport Film Festivals and featured at over 20 other film festivals! (Screens with Plastic Bag)

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