environment film

Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku

I caught a great little documentary last night, a Transition St Albans showing of Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku. It’s a film from New Zealand, and simply introduces ten people who are modeling stewardship of the earth, whose lives are in harmony with their surroundings. There are no flashy graphics, no gimmicks, no lecturing or narration, not even any facts – just the ordinary lives of extraordinary people.

There’s an wildlife photographer, a herbalist, a gardener. A botanist explores the ecosystem of a tree-trunk with his fingers, pointing out the mosses and the first year beech seedlings. A bird-caller sings in the forest, and enthusiastically shows the camera how the fallen trees are absorbed into the landscape and recycled by the forest floor. A foraging Maori chef shows how you pick leaves from the sunny side of the tree so that they come back faster.

Although this is a film about sustainability, it’s a very subtle approach. No need for stock footage of icebergs and oil wells. The people here highlight how crazy our lifestyles are simply by contrast, by modeling a better way. Only occasionally do wider issues even get a mention, such as New Zealand’s dependence on seed imports, or a cyclist musing on why anyone would want to drive to Christchurch when it’s only five and a half hours by bike.

Ultimately, Earth Whisperers is about place, living well in the unique locations that we find ourselves – knowing, honouring, loving the land. Although all ten examples are rural, the same principles apply to those of us living in towns and cities. Can we learn to see the places we live differently, taking our homes as a starting point. (“If weeds is all you’ve got, then weeds is what you should use” as organic farmer Jim O’Gorman says.)

Perhaps most enlightening was something that director Kathleen Gallagher said at the end in a Q and A session. Asked if there was one thing we could do to make St Albans a better place, she declined to tell us to eat seasonally or ban plastic bags, and answered with a Maori introduction. If I were introducing myself the traditional New Zealand way, I would say “my name is Jeremy Williams. I am from Luton, in the south of England. My mountains are the Warden Hills and the Chilterns. My river is the Lea, and the Thames Estuary is where my river meets the sea.” It’s a lot easier to say if you can name some wild part of New Zealand of course, which makes it all the more important if you are in a place like Luton, where the land is so buried under car parks and shopping malls. It is that sense of place, of intimacy with the landscape, that I will need to take away and muse on.

Earth Whisperers takes its time, and is rich in sound – birds, wind, trees, water. It’s full of beautiful scenery and beautiful people (though not in the Hollywood sense!) and is an unusually gentle and wise film.

If you want to host a Transition Town screening, it’s a positive and inspiring movie that should provoke some good discussion. It’s particularly relevant to the heart and soul side of things, the inner transition that changes our perspective. Here’s what you need to know:

Running time: 63 minutes

Licence: £3 per head, so you won’t need to worry about whether or not you’ll recoup the licence. You can charge what you like, and keep the difference.

Contact: UK screenings are being organised at the moment, so you might want to wait a couple of weeks. All the details will be on wickcandlefilms.co.nz in due course.

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