Guth Gafa International Documentary Festival June 10-14 – Report

| June 11, 2011 | Comments (0)



Monday June 13th.

As metaphors go, it turned out to be strangely appropriate.  Jeffrey Harrison rescued and befriended a pigeon.  He lovingly tended to it, and then it went missing – just hopped out of his RV on the beach and went walkabout (it was injured).  Jeffrey and his son gingerly approached a flock of pigeons on the beach to try to find it, and the son asked; ‘can you tell which one it is from all of these?’ And that in a way, mirrors the moral and ethical dilemma at the heart of Donor Unknown. Jeffrey, you see, made his living by donating his sperm throughout the 1980s – in fact he said it paid his rent for eight years – and the pigeons have come home to roost, so to speak.

The feature length doc follows one of his offspring, JoEllen, as she tries to find out about Donor 150 and attempts to make contact with any other half siblings that may exist….and they do, in their dozens.  The film follows JoEllen as she first meets up with Jeffrey whom she kindly describes as ‘bohemian’.

Many of the issues raised by members of the Gortahork audience during the Q & A following the film’s showing, centred on the whole notion of what fatherhood actually means, with one lady saying that she barely knew her father so he may as well have been a sperm donor.  Both the director, Jerry Rothwell and JoEllen herself bravely waded in to try to address the philosophical nuances raised (both seemed tired…JoEllen had made a roundtrip to Leitrim for a radio interview earlier in the day, and Jerry probably at this stage would rather stick to just the facts ma’am….the filmmaking process, the editing decisions, etc etc)  It was all too much for one local audience member as he raised his hand; ‘I’m going to be blunt.  That whole thing there is f**ked up…the world’s away with it!’

Another lady who was understandably tired as she had flown in the whole way from New Zealand to attend Guth Gafa, is producer, Lynn Collie.  Her documentary, There Once Was an Island is one of those films that gives a human face to a seemingly intractable reality – that of climate change.  Takuu is a tiny low lying atoll in the South Western Pacific and because of the industrialised world’s carbon dioxide emissions the way of life of the tiny community is in danger.  The rising tides and encroaching salt water is wreaking havoc on their homes and livelihoods.  You have to admire the effort and dedication that the filmmakers put into this beautifully shot verite-style film and the access they have given us into a unique and threatened culture, but as Lynn Collie stated during the Q & A; ‘we are filmmakers, not activists’.  There Once Was an Island follows three of the islanders as they consider their futures. The film challenges audiences to consider their own futures and relationship to the earth and other people.….and that is a big ask.

Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival runs until 14th June as it continues to follow two main strands; Terrorism on trial (films that deal with the shifting line between activism and terrorism) and the second theme is Climate based with chaired debates on both strands.  And in case you think that sounds all terribly worthy, the Festival Club with Craic and Ceilis and Cabarets has been threaded into the mix.  Eco friendly camping facilities have been provided and you can pay for a bunk in one of the camper buses for the night…..but be warned, you could get lumbered with a bunch of snorers. At least one person I know of who paid for a bunk, rolled out into the dawn without having slept a wink!  But then nothing beats a Gortahork dawn.


Saturday June 11th.


‘Green is good’.  Or is it?   Windfall Director Laura Israel, a native of Meredith, a small rural upstate New York town, believed that in welcoming the news that windmills were being planned for the area – she was honouring her green credentials.  This was the initial instinct of many in her community. Meredith locals are made up of people who have lived there for generations to more recent arrivals and the arguments in support of the windmills ranged from the economic benefits they would bring to a dying farm community, to genuine environmental concerns.

Then the reality of how these 400-foot Airtricity windmills would actually impact on their lives – from the sheer size of them, to the noise, to the health implications – began to increasingly alarm a large section of the community as they researched what their installation would actually mean.  The town of Meredith is split and opinions become divided on whether or not to give the go-ahead for the windmill project.

Windfall claims to look at both sides of wind energy development, but throughout the 83 minute documentary, there is very little revealed that would recommend the installation of windmills as being in any way beneficial.  The arguments in favour of their erection seem chiefly to be distilled to the fact that farming as a way of life is dying, and this could bring in a little money to landowners who allow their property to be used.  Beyond that, the film explores the link between the pursuit of wind energy and how highly profitable it is for wind energy developers to erect industrial turbines in large volumes on linked ridges of land.  The documentary touches on the ‘divide and conquer’ tactics of the developers when it comes to trying to convince local residents and the town board to allow for the erection of the windmills and it does not shy away from the charge of ‘vested interests’ being levelled at supporters of the idea.

Windfall is an interesting exploration of how the green agenda can be manipulated for corporate profit and the director, Laura Israel’s appeal seems simply to be; do your research.

Lisa Burkitt


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