ANTHROPOCENE | Return to Nature 

Summertime and once again Earth is up in flames. Though fire is a natural phenomenon, climate change has worsened the situation to such extremes that even the Amazon has fallen victim to it. For years now, literature and the film industry have looked upon the future with a pessimist eye, as the content being produced talks about a world of Dystopia that will consume almost everyone and everything. 

Though hopping on a train that goes around the globe every year, just like it did in Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013), is not possible in the near future, one hopes at least, humankind doesn’t live in harmony with Nature. Once supposedly separated from it, people have forgotten its role in their existence. The invisible link, however, is still there – one only needs to look within and remember. 

Leiden Shorts FIlm Festival remembers and tries to spread the word with the section titled “Anthropocene”. It all begins with Alisi Telengut’s short The Fourfold (2020). The animated film of hand painted imagery and plants – shot under the camera – showcases the shamanic rituals of old traditions from Siberia and Mongolia and delves into their indigenous philosophy against the backdrop of the environmental changes humankind has caused. Telegut has created an ode to Nature, with hypnotizing imagery and a superb soundtrack that transcends space and time leaving the audience in a lightheaded stupor. 

This state of euphoria, however, is short-lived as the section’s next entry, Josué García Prado’s Sarna (2021), throws everyone into a depressing and/or angry mood. The microcosm of stray dogs in Guatemala is displayed on screen followed by a childish whisper as a voice-over. García Prado vacillates between contrasting modes: the child’s voice narrates violent events while the screen is filled with dogs just being dogs. Though this wavering back and forth aims to point back to the ambivalent manner people treat dogs – beings whose innocence should be preserved and cherished but instead is overlooked when it becomes inconvenient – is a bit confusing. The statement is strong and it’s one everyone should spend some time thinking over, but it’s weakened by a difficult structure whose logic is unclear. 

Clarity, of course, is sometimes overrated as there are films whose vagueness might work for it instead of against it. This is where Manuel Marini’s Li Paradisi / The Heavens (2020) comes in. A documentary with incredible cinematography and an astonishing soundtrack tells the story of a woman (Celeste Casciaro) in Italy who owns an olive grove with her brother (Salvatore della Villa). A journey in green, but not as it should have been. Immersed in Lucia’s point of view, the viewers feel connected to olive trees simply because she, the audience’s main link, does. Perhaps this is why the short feels like a call to arms to fight for that which needs to be saved; for that which shouldn’t have been in trouble in the first place. The trees, rituals and time are intermingled and one can’t be sure about the “when” Lucia is from at times. Time becomes one circular entity because Lucia is one with the grove and the very ground it stands on. 

 Before Mother Earth becomes everyone’s permanent home, there’s a temporary, limited space Nature has created filled with liquid instead of air. Though people learned to swim before they could even breathe, they seem to have forgotten their innate connection to anything fluid. How else can their relationship with water be explained? Serge Onnen’s L’eau faux (2020) depicts the role of water in Western societies in an experimental short with weird imagery. Appropriately titled False Water, the short condemns the monetization of this precious liquid and its placement within a plastic bottle. A few comments on the waste of water, which he himself had to also waste in the process of making his point – reproducing the very attitude he wishes to criticize – are accompanied by what can only be perceived as an artificial birth of plastic bottles and their dominance in our environment. Form and content clash as the idea behind the project is admirable, but it’s manifestation on screen might leave someone with a tedious aftertaste of boredom. 

The section, however, closes with a bang with Pilar (2020) – a lively animation directed by a group of friends Yngwie Boley, J.J. Epping and Diana van Houten – whose theme is an introspective look at a woman’s inner Self. After adopting an urban lifestyle, people have abandoned most of their instinctive responses to external stimuli. Alienated from their place of origin, people think of Nature as a source of threat. Pilar is a film whose color palette and rhythm lure everyone to rediscover that primordial connection. Red – whose vibrancy connotes an intensity of emotion – is dominant in this environment; it’s almost as if it asks spectators to run back home – there might be a chance at survival, if people are realigned with their true essence once again. 

Perhaps one day, it will become clearer that Nature is humanity’s true home and that she – as the brilliant entity of unimaginable energy and strength that she is – can and will survive on her own. Thankfully, filmmakers embracing an eco-friendly mentality have taken on a mission to help people recall what has been lost. Be it animation, documentary or experimental filmmaking, the content is out there and by consuming it people take a step closer towards their home. The alert button has been pushed and though it might already be too late, a change in one’s ways can potentially restore balance to this organic coexistence. 

Ioanna Micha is a freelance copywriter based in Athens, Greece. She watches films. She reads about films. She writes about films. Generally speaking, if the word film is in the equation, she’s in.