As part of its EcoFilm Festival, the Hollywood Theatre held their Earth Day Weekend Film Showcase from April 19 to 21, where they screened four movies relating to different environmental topics. The showcase was a more condensed version of the longer EcoFilm Festival which occurs each fall. Out of the four movies that were played, I was able to attend two very different, but equally interesting films.
In the spirit of both Earth Day and 4/20, the Hollywood Theatre chose to screen Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film “Dreams” on Saturday night. Made towards the end of his life, “Dreams” is a visually enthralling, magic realism film which brought to life eight of Kurosawa’s recurring dreams. Having never seen the film, I was at first confused as to how “Dreams” related to the environment. Yet, after watching it I understood.
Many of Kurosawa’s dreams are, in fact, about his perception of natural beauty and living sustainably. Throughout these dreams, Kurosawa is represented by an unnamed figure, whom I refer to as “the subject.” For example, the final dream reenacted in the film, entitled “Village of the Watermills,” displays an idealized version of the traditional satoyama landscape, one teeming with vibrant flowers and a river with many watermills. In this dream, the subject talks to an old man who resides in the village, and asks him about his way of life. The old man tells Kurosawa that the people who reside in this village live simply, connected with the natural world which surrounds them and refuse technology created for convenience. He stresses that this is the ideal way of life, as the most important things to human beings are clean air and water, not trivial technology.
In another dream entitled “The Peach Orchard,” the subject of the dream is depicted as a young boy who follows a mysterious girl into the remains of the peach orchard his family cut down. There, he encounters a tribe of doll-like people, who claim to be the spirits of the orchard. They accuse the young boy of not mourning the loss of the orchard, and he begins to cry, as he greatly misses the trees. The dolls agree to allow him to see the orchard one last time, and perform a ritualistic dance for him and the orchard returns in full bloom. He is in awe of their beauty, but gets distracted by seeing the mysterious girl once more. He runs after her, and looks around to see that all of the trees are gone.
In both of these dreams, Kurosawa equates natural beauty to a more manicured landscape, reflecting traditional Japanese management of the land. These minimally-invasive, traditional techniques of coexisting with the land are rooted in his childhood experiences, and greatly shaped how he viewed the ideal sustainable life as an adult.
In this film, Kurosawa also reenacted his recurring nightmares, both of which dealt with the idea of nuclear destruction. In the dream “Mount Fuji in Red,” Mount Fuji looks to be exploding, people are running frantically and the subject has no idea what is happening amid the chaos. He is told that six nuclear power plants exploded at once, and people are running to try to get away from the radiation. Suddenly everyone is gone except for him, another man, a mother and her two young children, and he asks where all of the people went. The man proceeds to tell him that they are all at the bottom of the ocean, as they jumped from the cliffs in desperation trying to escape the incoming radiation. Then, the radiation appears as red, purple and yellow gas and the man explains all of the ways it can slowly kill you. He reveals that he is to blame for implementing the nuclear plants before jumping into the ocean himself. The dream ends with the subject frantically trying to swat away the fumes with his jacket and the mother attempting to shield her children the best she can.
The dream “The Weeping Demon” is similarly about the effects of nuclear radiation, as the subject encounters a man turned into a demon in a hellish landscape. The demon explains how the area used to be a field of flowers before the radiation set in, and now it is completely barren. Yet, the demon explains that recently some “strange flowers” have emerged, and he takes the subject to see the human-sized dandelions that are growing as well as a mutated rose. He says that all life has become mutated, including human beings that have turned into demons. He then shows the subject a group of demons howling in pain, due to the horns they have sprouted. The dream concludes with the demon asking in subject if he wants to become a demon as well, and, horrified, he runs away.
While these two dreams are terrifying, it is important to note that the horror arise out of human carelessness. Humans had built the nuclear power plants without any regard for the future, and Kurosawa alludes to the very real devastation that can arise from nuclear “accidents.” Thus, these dreams should be regarded as warnings to think more carefully about the consequences of our actions against the planet.
On Sunday night, the Hollywood Theatre screened the new documentary “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” directed by Alison Reid. This film features the life of Anne Innis Dagg, a pioneer for women in the scientific field and the first ever “giraffologist.” Dagg was the first non-African woman to venture to Africa alone with the goal of studying animal behavior in the 1950s, even before Jane Goodall. She authored numerous books and articles, including a book considered to be “the bible” of giraffe biology.
However, Dagg never rose to fame due to rampant sexism in the scientific field at the time. When she tried to become a tenured professor at the University of Guelph located in Ontario, Canada, she was denied despite the fact that she had published over 15 academic papers in world-renowned scientific journals and had conducted extensive, groundbreaking research for her field. She was told that she could only remain at the university for one more year, so she resigned and sought employment elsewhere. Yet, she was unsuccessful in finding another position, and was even told directly that she wouldn’t be hired because she had a husband who could support her.
Dagg then went on to author numerous books on a variety of topics such as giraffes and women’s rights, and went to court trying to fight for the rights of women in academia.
Reid’s film attempts to provide a spotlight for Dagg, as she is a woman with an incredible story who has been brushed under the rug for so many years. Fortunately, the film does a beautiful job in honoring her. Parts of the film were shot during Dagg’s return to Africa after more than half a century of being away, and showcases her reconnection with the land that shaped her in her twenties. Furthermore, the film incorporates old footage of Dagg working in Africa in the 1950s, which she gave to Reid after stumbling across it in her attic. It provides a beautiful lens into a life of an incredibly interesting woman who was disregarded at her time.
Seeing both of these very different films in conjunction with each other is a reminder that the term “environmental film” is broad, and does not necessarily have to encompass solely nature documentaries. Both of these films, while in many ways polar opposites, send the message that the natural world deserves respect and humans can indeed have a positive impact, if we work unselfishly and with intention.