The UK’s Green Film Festival is an annual celebration of the best in environmental film making. Two films were selected by the UPP, and the expert panel discussion afterwards provoked lively debate and animated audience participation.
The first film, Good Things Await, followed a year in the life of Danish farmer Niels Stokholm and his wife Rita Hansen. His farm Thorshojgaard has been run for over forty years on biodynamic principles: a spiritual/ethical/ecological approach to agriculture, influenced by Rudolph Steiner’s work.
While his cheese and meat from the farm’s Danish Red cattle supplies award winning restaurants such as NOMA and Restaurant Julien, his methods command less respect from Denmarks’s agricultural authorities, who believe they may fall foul of EU legislation on animal welfare.
Director Phie Ambo records a remarkable rapport between the octogenarian Stokholm and his cattle: Stokholm’s belief in becoming part of the ‘group self’ is key to mutual acceptance and trust. His solemn farewell to a calf he has known since birth – before its slaughter – is a timely reminder that the cling-filmed meat packs we put into our supermarket trolleys represent an animal giving up its life.
Stokholm’s frustrations with random inspections, his worries over money, and the future of his farm and his stock are presented with crisp clarity. Lyrical shots of the beauty of the natural world – from earthworms to lapwings – are heightened by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s choral score, sung by the Theatre of Voices.
While some of Stokholm’s philosophy is hard to follow at times, his ‘perfect spiritual light bulb’ moments are convincing. He believes in sharing Thorshojgaard’s closeness with nature: Rita Hansen walks a farm track accompanied by nightingales’ song, while two young visitors are given a ride in the bucket of a forklift truck, a sleeping calf lying across their laps, and on their faces – joy.
The European premiere of Fredrik Gertten’s Bikes vs Cars explored the response of major cities to increased car ownership, and how cyclists were asserting their right to the road.
In a film which followed bicycle campaigners demanding cycle lanes and mutual respect in car dominated cities such as Los Angeles and Sao Paolo, the success of Amsterdam and Copenhagen illustrated the art of the possible.
The big difference apart from political will was that neither of the latter European cities had a tradition of national car production. Competing with the lobbying power of the car, transport and oil industry – even Angela Merkel’s government seems to have accepted cars from BMW – cyclists face tough challenges.
Yet all over the world, initiatives to encourage cycling, resulting in cleaner air, less congestion and the sheer exhilaration of pedal power showed the way ahead.
It cannot be realised too soon - before another ‘ghost bike’ marks a tragic loss of life, which vehicular respect for cyclists and appropriate urban planning could have avoided.