SERIES: Oct. 10–14 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
“What is the way to live in our shifting world?” Posed by the Inuit elder who narrates Vanishing Point, a new National Film Board doc about changing ways of life in Arctic communities, this question lies at the heart of nearly every other movie at Planet in Focus. Indeed, engaging viewers on the question of how they wish to live has always been a bigger priority at the festival of eco-themed films than mere doom-mongering about humankind’s imminent (and self-inflicted) extinction.
One case in point is the opening film for the 13th annual edition. Lost Rivers (screening Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.) takes viewers deep into an underground world that urbanites are just beginning to explore and embrace. These are the natural waterways that were buried, diverted into sewers, or otherwise disrupted by the cities they originally nurtured. Yet as our man-made water systems come under greater strain due to population growth and climate change, these original rivers may be one key to creating more sustainable cities. For proof, Caroline Bâcle’s film showcases fascinating projects in Seoul, the Italian city of Brescia, and Yonkers, N.Y. All three examples give hope to local activists who long to see a smarter use of Toronto’s watershed (Garrison Creek’s certainly overdue for a comeback).
The festival’s five-day program also includes an onstage discussion with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, producer Nicholas de Pencier, and photographer Edward Burtynsky. The Grid’s Adam Nayman serves as moderator for the talk, which follows a screening of Manufactured Landscapes on Oct. 12 at 5:15 p.m. Baichwal’s 2006 award-winner remains one of the most visually arresting and disturbing films about the world’s ongoing toxification. There are several more at this year’s Planet In Focus, two of which have a better chance of being heard thanks to celebrity connections. A Canadian documentary about the havoc created by the international trade in carbon credits—it screens Oct. 11 at 9:15 p.m.—The Carbon Rush is narrated by Daryl Hannah. (Don’t scoff—the Splash star’s activist credentials include getting arrested at a Keystone XL pipeline protest last year.) The voice of Jeremy Irons adds a tone of refinement to the very dirty business in Trashed (screening Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.), a British doc about the Earth’s transformation into a giant rubbish bin.
If your idea of a celeb cameo is the sight of CBC Radio One’s Shelagh Rogers skinning a caribou, then you’re in luck. An engaging new doc by the team behind The National Parks Project, Northwords (screening Oct. 11 at 7:15 p.m.) depicts a journey by The Next Chapter host and five esteemed Canadian writers to a remote patch of Labrador. Marked by encounters with icebergs, local community members, and one unlucky caribou, the expedition yields plenty of awe, wonder, and conviviality for authors like Rabindranath Maharaj and Alissa York, both of whom will read excerpts of work inspired by the trip at the screening.
Providing views of the north that are even more extraordinary, Vanishing Point (screening Oct. 12 at 9:15 p.m.) is a compelling blend of eco-doc and time-warping travelogue. Directors Stephen A. Smith and Julia Szucs use the story of an Inuit elder’s efforts to retrace an ancestor’s journey between Baffin Island and Greenland to examine a wider series of changes for Arctic peoples. That these communities have continually adapted to new ways inspires a glimmer of hope even if Vanishing Point conveys a powerful sense of grief over what has already been lost, and what’s about to be.