JWR Articles: Film/DVD - NFB - Planet in Focus (Directors: Nadine Valcin, Alan Pakarnyk, Jean-Philippe Duval, Hélène Choquette) - November 4, 2006

NFB - Planet in Focus

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Reviewed for the 2006 Planet in Focus
Three diverse films

Une école sans frontières (A School Without Borders)
Three and one-half stars
Nadine Valcin
Canada (2005)
51 min.

And lessons for all

“What can you get without an education?”

Toronto’s École secondaire Étienne-Brûlé is the setting for Nadine Valcin’s examination of the trials and tribulations of French-speaking refugees who have arrived in Canada’s largest city to begin life anew.

Whether mother tongue or not (a Russian student admits she’s the only member of her family who will speak French), all of the classes are taught en français, yet most of the students speak English amongst themselves and almost exclusively elsewhere.

The resourcefulness, good humour and dedication of teacher/social worker/guidance counsellor (but not friend—some borders must not be crossed) Bernard Lachapelle is lovingly chronicled. If only all teachers were like him, today’s too-high drop-out rate would most certainly be lower.

Christian, a veteran of the system, is given a lot of screen time. Even as his own refugee status remains uncertain, he makes it a point to help the newest of the newcomers find their way in the halls learning, the subway and the multi-level caverns of capitalism: the Eaton Centre.

Phillippe Lapointe’s funky music track keeps the proceedings—from the reality of Canadian winters to the annual yearbook signing—moving along steadily. The comments offered by the students (ranging from Congo to Haiti to Algeria) give the film a feel-good, this-is-important outlook, but more questions remain unanswered than are convincingly resolved. Not least of those is Lachapelle’s telling assertion: “I don’t know if we’re doing the job.”

A ten-year “where-are-they-now?” update is eagerly anticipated. JWR

Desert flight

Four and one-half stars
Alan Pakarnyk
4 min.; 40 secs.

Fine art indeed

Alan Pakarnyk’s truly vivid imagination and Randolph Peters’ effective soundscape combine in a marvellous collage of life that, like a vintage port, can be savoured after a fine meal then stored away for future visitations.

From the arid golden heat of the desert, blasted away into a thousand shards of colour (the pinks: spectacular), texture and design (singular snowflakes, of course), to the black-and-white depiction of the food chain, the screen’s awash in art that makes time stand still. Only a less generous helping of mainstream-fantasy orchestration could improve the result. JWR

Maldives Island

The Refugees of the Blue Planet (Les réfugiés de planète bleue)
Four stars
Jean-Philippe Duval, Hélène Choquette
Canada (2006)
53 min.

“Criminal, murderous corporations”

Just on the heels of Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s cancellation of a Canada-EU environment summit scheduled to take place in Finland at the end of November, viewing The Refugees of the Blue Planet (Les réfugiés de la planète bleue) takes on extra importance. Just as Harper will not benefit from the wisdom offered (even if never acted upon) at such an event, those around the planet who need to see this disturbing film by Jean-Philippe Duval and Hélène Choquette will not afford themselves the opportunity of contemplating what havoc their governments (and shamelessly generous corporate supporters) have wrought through the endless pursuit of global “development” and the divine necessity for ever-bigger GDPs (which should be forever known as Gross Destructive Pollution).

Seeing the Maldives erode into the sea (unforgettably personalized by the elder fisherman who will remain on his island—even if alone—to his last breath), Brazil’s family farmers wiped out by eucalyptus plantations (ass wiping as metaphor: perfect at every turn) and the ravages of sour gas (real and time-bomb ticking in the epitome of bureaucratic nomenclature “Emergency Planning Zones") in Canada’s only debt-free province will bring a temporary call to action in those whose growing sense of outrage is finally exploded by the daily increase of “environmental refugees.”

Pathetically, governments are espousing doctrines to their NGOs and charities (organizations who must do the heavy lifting for the very calamities created by their unionized masters at discounted wages) that preach the necessity of becoming fully sustainable, while unrelentingly supporting centralized solutions to farming, fishing and animal husbandry that are one-trick ponies.

The film is heavy on the thoughtful alarmists, but (except for readily available commercials and media clips of posturing world leaders) somewhat unbalanced in (a) shoring up the science that global warming is the result of reckless development (b) providing a forum for other points of view—however fantastical.

The moody string quartet and war-like drums further reinforce the calamities ahead and the monstrous fact that both political and environmental refugees are thrown into their dire straits by the same unbridled lust for growth at any cost. JWR

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