This film festival will explore a slew of themes under the umbrella of 'Capitalism and Climate Sciences'

The team scouts for environmental films across many categories, including features, short films, student films and animation films.
Kunal Khanna (centre)
Kunal Khanna (centre)

In 2022, India made it big on screen with green. The Elephant Whisperers and Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes won hearts and global recognition, the former also bagged an Oscar. Both these films delve deep into the issue of human-wildlife coexistence, bringing us closer to nature. With the same hope, All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALTEFF), launched in 2020, is back with its fourth edition across 22 states of India. This year, ALTEFF will explore many new themes under the umbrella of ‘Capitalism and Climate Sciences’.  

Capitalism is a system that believes in profit above all, creating a never-ending cycle of production and consumption leading to many ills—over-fishing, depleted resources, destroyed habitats, and skyrocketing greenhouse emissions, to name a few. “Our planet is heating up, and yet we are driving down the path of capitalism. Everyone is frustrated, and this is what we are exploring in our screenings this year,” says Kunal Khanna, founder of ALTEFF. The climate sciences films, Khanna says, are “not just about data” but supported by recent research in climate sciences. Starting December 1, viewers are in for an emotive and visually compelling experience.

Panchgani to the world

What started in Panchgani has now reached the world. The idea of ALTEFF was conceived when Khanna was working as an economist in Melbourne. He attended the environmental film festival of Australia and understood the power of the creative industry to bring about social change, he says. Khanna found out that though film festivals existed in India, there were rarely any dedicated to environmental causes. “Policies were there, but awareness was lacking. So, I told a few of my friends in Panchgani about this idea, and we came together and created ALTEFF,” he shares.

The planning started in 2019, and the festival was finally launched in 2020. Initially, the idea was to create an environmental film festival that would drive people to Panchgani, “a biodiversity hotspot." However, plans changed with the arrival of the pandemic. “The pandemic was a blessing in disguise; we launched ALTEFF virtually and were able to tap into audiences around the globe.” ALTEFF started as a 12-person volunteer-driven organisation in the first year. In 2021, part-time positions opened, and now it is a nine-person team with at least 25 volunteers.  

Even during the pandemic, ALTEFF had 100 entries. this year, out of the 400 submissions from more than 60 countries, ALTEFF will be screening 65 films, of which 39 are Indian premiers. The selection process starts around January and lasts up to mid-July. The team scouts for environmental films across many categories, including features, short films, student films, and animation films. Keeping in mind the broader environmental themes, films with both artist aesthetics and activism are selected to be screened.  

Must-watch for Delhiites

The environment concerns everyone, but there are some films, suggests Khanna, that must be watched by Delhites. Situated at the foothills of the Aravali range, Delhi is a diverse place, yet what every house here has in common are the marble slabs in their kitchen. The marble we use comes from the Aravali mountains in Udaipur. In Aravali: The Lost Mountains, Jigar Nagda tackles the problem of over-mining, highlighting the clash between the environment and the economy. “Mining in the Aravali ranges harms the land, causes acid rain, and even leads to diseases like scoliosis. The impact extends to Delhi, where mountains are shrinking due to land acquisition. In a way this issue concerns people in the capital as much as it concerns the people in Rajasthan,” says the director.  

Another must-watch on the issue of increased consumerism is Against the Tide, which is set on the shores of Mumbai. The film is about two fishermen brothers of the Koli tribe and their constant “struggle to survive”, says director Sarvnik Kaur. Between keeping up with the ever-increasing demand and lack of fish in the sea, the film tries to show the impact capitalism has on the indigenous. Drawing parallels to Delhi, the film’s producer Koval Bhatia points out the issue of pollution and stubble burning. While sustainable living is a must, whose shoulders should the burden of sustainability fall on? Is it the minorities? The labourers? The indigenous? Raising these important questions, the film tries to convey that “nobody is untouched by it [capitalism causing environmental damage]”.

No Water No Village by Munmun Dhalaria also raises urgent issues. The movie addresses the problem of shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas, part of the world’s third-pole region, which includes the Tibetan plateau and the Hindu Kush. Dhalaria, who herself comes from Himachal Pradesh, says this issue is not only region-specific but also of the larger Indian population. “Every year, some glaciers recede by 11 meters, and this has been going on for the last 18 years, which can affect 250 million lives directly,” she says. Compared to two decades ago, mountain disasters are now more frequent. The 2021 Chamoli disaster, for instance, killed well over 200 people. The director also mentions that in her research she found that the floods may recur till 2050, “after that, there will be drought, and this will affect the farmers in the downstream areas more than the ones living in Himachal Pradesh or Ladakh”.

ALTEFF is about to launch an environmental film fund to support environmental filmmakers and is in the process of developing a school programme on building environmental awareness. Says Khanna: “It is very important that we allow students to understand the environmental message as it will strengthen the foundation.”

Catch ALTEFF in Delhi at Blue Tokai Coffee, Dec 4, 6pm, Mehrauli 1AQ; American Library, US Embassy, Dec 6, 3pm; Raw Mango, Lodhi Colony Market, Dec 9, 5:30pm

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