Six Documentaries to Watch for Earth Day

Every day should be Earth Day. But I believe it is important to have this particular day to acknowledge the fragility of our planet and that what each one of us does for Her good is not nearly enough. Here are six environmental documentaries I recommend.
 
 

 
 
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, 2017, directed by Nari Kye and Anna Chai

The amount of food wasted in the developed world in a single day is staggering and the impact on climate change is shocking – some forty percent of food that Americans buy is sent to landfills, contributing to a toxic environment. This insightful documentary, produced by Anthony Bourdain, explores the reasons for this problem, but, most importantly, offers a series of practical, easy-to-adopt everyday solutions. Prominent chefs from around the world such as the late Anthony Bourdain himself, Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura offer advice on improving the way we eat and how we can reduce waste. It is engaging and urges you to take action yourself. Think global, act local.

Side note: Two books that are about so much more than food: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain, and The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber, an advocate for farm-to-table cuisine. Barber has also hosted wastED pop-ups in New York City and London, showcasing scraps in creative dishes.
 
 

 
 
The Salt of the Earth, 2014, directed by Wim Wenders

This documentary is an impressive and beautiful visual homage to the life’s work and passion of photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has been traveling the world for more than 40 years, chronicling the human condition. But the most lasting impression about the Brazilian photographer is his project Instituto Terra. Together with his wife, Léila, he set out to regrow the drought-stricken remains of his family’s once-thriving farm and the Brazilian rain forest of his youth. They did an experimental program of replanting millions of trees and their technique proved so successful that Instituto Terra has now reforested parts of Brazil’s Mata Atlantica and is a model for similar efforts worldwide. His work should give every human being hope and faith and the impulse to make an effort.
 
 

 
 
Untamed Romania, 2018, directed to Tom Barton-Humphreys

The uniqueness of Romania is in its natural, raw, untamed beauty that still exists, the kind that is extinct in many Western European countries. The documentary Romania neîmblânzitã (Untamed Romania) is a beautiful homage to my country, and I imagine that, for many people who have never visited Romania (and one can not say they have visited Romania unless they have gone into its rich wilderness), it will be a revelation. I appreciate the positive view on Romania shown in the film (because I believe that sometimes this is the kind of approach that can inspire positive reaction more than harsh reportages ever have or will) just as much as I appreciate the signal of alarm at the end – a call to acknowledging the environmental threats our country, as the rest of the world, has been facing, and to taking the necessary steps against them.
 
 

 
 
Jane, 2017, directed by Brett Morgen

Jane Goodall, now one of the world’s most admired primatologists and conservationists, was 26 years old, had no scientific university degree, or training in the field when, on July 14, 1960, she embarked on a lifelong dream: living in the wild and conducting a pioneering study of chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania. Her discoveries were revolutionary, her passion for her work was monumental, and her study of the chimps is the longest continuous study of a wild animal in history. But, for me, the beauty of the documentary Jane is not about scientific facts, it’s about Jane’s love of the wild life, of nature, of discovery. “As a child, which was before tv and computer games, I loved spending time outside,” says Jane when she recounts the beginning of her passion for animals and nature. I hope every parent and every child gets to see this film, because, if not anything else, it fosters a love for nature, for the wild, and for the wild at heart, summoning you to live free and in perfect symbiosis with your natural surroundings.
 
 

 
 
Chasing Ice, 2012, directed by Jeff Orlowski

This affecting documentary captures the longest glacier degradation event ever shown on film. During repeated expeditions to Greenland and by using time-lapse photography, environmental photographer James Balog and his team of researchers on the Extreme Ice Survey captured the receding glaciers of Greenland, showing the effect of global warming, a visual proof of a changing world to climate change skeptics. The power of images is tremendous and it should be the most effective motivator for change. Seeing is believing, right? So how come that, in 2019, Chasing Ice is unfortunately, tragically another sad reminder that, in the years since it premiered, not much has changed for the better?
 
 

 
 
Virunga (2014), directed by Orlando von Einsiedel

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and called by Jane Goodall a “wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of the planet,” Virunga is about the world’s last mountain gorillas who live in the Virunga National Park in Congo and the park rangers dedicated to saving them. Virunga National Park is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site, but one that is threatened by armed clonflicts and oil exploitation. The park rangers have to protect it and its innocent inhabitants from armed militia, poachers and the powerful forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. Compelling, suspenseful, powerful and lucid, Virunga gives a human face to a very complex problem.

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The Film that Made the Leather Bomber Jacket Cool Again

Robert Redford in “The Great Waldo Pepper”, 1975 | Universal Pictures

 
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) is a George Roy Hill film about a biplane pilot who had missed out on combat in World War I and takes up barnstorming in the 1920s and then becomes a Hollywood stunt pilot in quest of the glory he had missed. He eventually re-enacts a famous dogfight with an actual German ace and along the storyline not few are the tribulances he faces.

Robert Redford plays the lead role and Edith Head was the costume designer. On working with George Roy Hill, Head said “he’s a perfectionist. I had to show him all the fabrics. This doesn’t happen very often, but he has a tremendous interest in everything, and I like to work with someone like that.” The director had been a marine pilot in World War II and the Korean War before going into the movie industry, and he reportedly often flew the plane featured in the film while directing the action.

As for Redford, Edith Head said: “I go to Redford and I show him three sketches, telling him ‘this one will make you seem more sensitive, this one is more aggressive, and this one is more romantic.’ I let him decide which is best for him. Usually he will pick the one that is most masculine.”

Redford is indeed natural, simple, boyish, brave in the film and the clothes play the part. Redford has usually played characters who emulate the kind of style that is more about dressing down (like that American look in the true preppy spirit) and less about glamorous Hollywood style – something I am sure the actor agrees with in real life. “There was nothing at the end of the rainbow for me here. Hollywood was not a place I dreamed of getting to. I never could take seriously the obsession people have about being a celebrity or getting to Hollywood — I was born next door.”

He wears a brown leather bomber jacket in The Great Waldo Pepper and the film was one of the movies credited with the revitalising the interest in the leather bomber jackets, according to Jay Jorgensen, the author of the book Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. Jorgensen doesn’t get into further detail, and I must admit that my first thought was that the bomber jacket has always been around, and that its appeal has never gone away.

But. Let’s think a little harder. It was the 1970s. A time that wasn’t fashion’s best, not even for men. A time when not even James Bond’s style stayed in the realm of classic as played by Roger Moore – what made his James Bond enduring was the fact that Moore put his own spin on it (debonair, dapper, devil-may-care). The plot of The Great Waldo Pepper was however set in the 1920s and we can trace in Robert Redford’s character the post-war pursuit of the American Dream. No matter what, he looks put-together. He is an aviator, of course, and the high-flyer costume is part of his life. It endows him the self-assurance and conviction he needs in his pursuits of glory, whatever form that might take. I can not think of any time when confidence and a sense of dress have not gone hand in hand. But maybe the 1970s needed a little reassurance on what exactly a sense of dress was (and still is).
 

Robert Redford in “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975) | Universal Pictures

 

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Gimme Danger: A Playlist

Joe Strummer and Jim Jarmusch, 1989

 
There are certain people who personify the glamour of a certain time and place. This photo of Joe Strummer and Jim Jarmusch was taken in the 1989. Stranger than Paradise made Jarmusch’s reputation in 1984, wrote Ryan Gilbey in The Guardian, “back when ‘indie’ really did mean ‘independent’ rather than ‘the boutique arm of a major studio’”. How right he is. In 1989, The Clash days were over, but a decade after the release of one of the best albums of all time, London Calling, Joe Strummer was still making music and what he had already given the world was so great and he would go on making good music culminating, tragically, with his last album, Streetcore, with his post-Clash band, The Mescaleros (the album was half-finished at the time of his passing away, in 2002). “Here’s an album that conveys who this guy was. He had a punk dimension, a Woody Guthrie dimension, a reggae dimension, and his lyrics found an Englishman’s view of America somewhere between John Ford’s and Allen Ginsberg’s,” wrote Ben Ratliff in The New York Times.

I like that this photo is from the eighties from another reason, too. Joe and Jim had been friends from the beginning of the 1980s and Joe even appeared in Mystery Train (1989). “When did I first meet Joe? In the early Eighties. Lots of mutual friends, especially in New York. I also met Mick and Paul, who I remain friends with, and Don Letts, who I’m a godfather to his children. I love Joe so much, I’m still mad at him for being gone. Apparently with his heart condition, he could have gone at any moment in his life. When you think what that guy left and gave to us all, it’s staggering. What an amazing gift he was,” Jarmusch remembered his friend in an interview for Uncut magazine in 2014.

And last, the photo above was what gave the tone to and set the mood for this month’s playlist. It is not however dedicated to Jim Jarmusch’s film soundtracks (I have already done that here). As usual, these happen to be the songs I have been listening to lately.

But first, a few side notes: Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, The Dead Don’t Die, will open this year’s Festival de Cannes, which has just released its official poster paying tribute to Agnès Varda. I am yet to watch Jarmusch’s documentary about Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Gimme Danger, and I am planning to watch The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, another documentary, these days – it was not directed by Jim Jarmusch, but Bill Murray has appeared in four of the fimmaker’s movies (have you read Heidi Wellington’s beautiful piece written for Classiq Journal about her favourite movie experience starring the same inimitable Bill Murray?).
 
 

 

1.Gimme Danger, Iggy Pop and The Stooges / 2.Long Shadow, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros / 3.These Days, Camille O’Sullivan / 4.Chaos from the Top Down, Stereophonics / 5.Drunken Lullabies, Flogging Molly / 6.Gambling Bar Room Blues, John Mellencamp / 7.Placebo ft. David Bowie, Without You I’m Nothing / 8.Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd / 9.Old Time Rock n Roll, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band / 10.Moondance, Van Morrison / 11.Astral Plane, The Modern Lovers / 12.Year of the Cat, Al Stewart /
13.Love Is All You Love, Band of Skulls / 14.Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash / 15.Golden Haze, Wild Nothing / 16.Smoke on the Water, Deep Purple / 17.I Put a Spell on You, Creedence Clearwater Revival / 18.Coma Girl, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros


 

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The Rules of Hollywood (and Style) According to David Niven


 
The life story is that of a raconteur, a British, a soldier, a gentleman, an actor. The sense of humour is the best kind of British humour. The name dropping is not callous (would you rather not find out his stories about his friends, Bogie, Errol Flynn, Noël Coward, Tyrone Powell, Sinatra, Ida Lupino, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, etc., or his honest, never defamatory, opinion about the big Hollywood studios bosses?). The sense of style ensuing from the storytelling has nothing to do with the sartorial wit (although he had that to spare, too). The honesty is that of a man who counted good luck and good contacts as big part of his path towards a career in the movies. The view on Hollywood stretches from its Golden Age to the radical transformations that arrived with the advent of television and it is well worth the reading. Here are a few take-away words from David Niven’s autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon.

 

Hollywood

 
“There was an excitement and generosity of spirit in Hollywood – a minimum of jealousy and pettiness, everyone felt they were still pioneering in a wonderful entertainment medium.” (about Hollywood in the 1930s)

“Hollywood has changed completely. The old camaraderie of pioneers in a one-generation business still controlled by the people who created it, was gone. The mystique had evaporated.” (about Hollywood in the 1960s)

“This was the completely honest expression of a completely honest man and a breath of fresh air in a place where the empty promise was the easy way out.” (about Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)

“The word ‘playwright’ is spelled that way for a very good reason. Shipwrights build ships, wheelwrights fashion wheels, and playwrights construct plays. If they construct them badly, they quickly fly apart at the seams.”

“Hollywood is like a bird dog. When things are going badly, it teases and sniffs at you. It scrapes away at the camouflage. It knows.”

“Don’t be like the majority of actors… don’t just stand around waiting your turn to speak – learn to listen.” (talking about Charlie Chaplin’s advice to him)

“Nobody should try to play comedy unless they have a circus going on inside.” (talking about Ernst Lubitsch in one of their conversations)

“Television, in the early fifties, had begun to rear its ugly head. The major film studios, instead of grabbing it and making it their own, decided first to ignore it, then to fight it and wound up, a few years later, being swallowed by it.”
 
 

The Rat Pack

 
Niven was friends with Frank Sinatra, of whom he says, “So much has been written about Sinatra, […] that I can contribute nothing except to say that he is one of the few people in the world I would instinctively think of if I needed help of any sort.” And he gets the record straight about the group that originally formed The Rat Pack, named by Lauren Bacall (‘You look like a Goddamn Rat Pack!’) on a trip to Las Vegas accompanying Frank Sinatra and Nöel Coward, after surveying the outcome of a few days of partying. “The group consisted of Betty and Bogie, Mike and Gloria Romanoff, Ernie Kocacs and his wife, ‘Swifty’ Lazar, Sid Luft and Judy Garland , Angie Dickinson, Hjördis (ed. note: David Niven’s wife) and myself.”
 
 

Marlene Dietrich

 
“Marlene, the most glamorous of all, was also one of the kindest.”
 
 

Humphrey Bogart

 
“It took me a while to realise that he had perfected an elaborated camouflage to cover up one of the kindest and most generous of hearts.”
 
 

Beauty

 
“The beauty came from within because each and every one of them was filled with concern for others, and kindness, and generosity.”
 
 

Teenage hood

 
“Instead of sitting around and looking inward, we rushed about noisily and happily extroverted.”
 
 

Life

 
“The front door of the Montclair was in Lexington Avenue, exactly opposite the back door of the Waldorf-Astoria, so during that miserable cold winter, I made a point to come out each morning from the Montclair, carrying my bag of samples, cross Lexington, climb the long stairs at the rear entrance of the Waldorf, wend my way through the vast gilded lobbies of the most luxurious hotel in New York, descend the steps to the front entrance, pass through the revolving doors and issue on to Fifth Avenue to start my day…
‘Good morning, Mr. Niven,’ said the doorman, saluting deferentially.
‘Good morning, Charles.’
Very good for morale.”
 
 

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Stepping into the World of Astrid Lindgren

Junibacken | Reproduction of Emil’s woodwork shed from Astrid Lindgren’s “Emil i Lönneberga” | photo: Classiq Journal

 
 
After having recently experienced Junibacken, the entire family has a new favourite book to look forward to reading every evening: Astrid Lindgren’s “Emil i Lönneberga” (“Emil of Lönneberga”). Junibacken, set on Djurgården island in Stockholm, is a magical place, a children’s museum, a children’s cultural centre with books at its heart. The aim is to awaken the desire to read, from the earliest age. “We want to encourage creativity and imagination – and show the way to the magic between the pages.” Is there anything more beautiful and nobler than that?

Junibacken started with Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of two of the most beloved children’s book characters in the world, Emil from Lönneberga and Pippi Longstocking. It was meant to create, inspire and stimulate in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren, but it was also crafted as a place where other writers of children’s books and illustrators could be showcased and inspire others. And the best part is that Junibacken is not only for children, but for adults, too. Because we never stop being children, do we? I hope not.
 
 

”I want to write for a readership that can create miracles.
Children create miracles when they read.”

Astrid Lindgren

 
 

Original illustration by Björn Berg for “Emil i Lönneberga” | Emil’s woodshed
Björn’s four year-old son Torbjörn, with his woollen hair and big blue eyes,
was the model after which Emil was shaped.

 
 
“Emil i Lönneberga” was not one of my childhood books, and in part I am glad for that because now I get to discover that world together with my son. And it’s wonderful. But I did have another Swedish character friend, Nils Holgersson, the creation of Selma Lagerlöf. I loved going on adventures with him through Sweden every time I wanted to. “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson” remains one of my favourite children’s books of all time. I still have my childhood copy. It has yellowed pages, the cover has faded colours, it’s a little torn on its edges, but it has some of my childhood dreams still tucked in its pages and it’s one of the most treasured titles in my library – the new editions I see in bookshops have no appeal to me whatsoever. And it’s the copy I will start reading to my son when he grows a little older.

That said, I am quickly taking to Emil’s adventures, too. I like him. He is a little boy who lives with his family in the Lönneberga village of Småland, Sweden. He looks angelic, but he is wild and gets into so much trouble and does so many pranks that he turns his entire community upside down. His mischief doesn’t come from meanness though, but rather from curiosity, innocence and a lack in foresight. He really is a good boy. “That Emil in Lönneberga, he was a real pest of a boy, not at all as nice as you. But his mum loved him all the same,” Astrid Lindgren began her story. She had such a talent in talking about important things in a fun and easy way, in engaging the reader, a talent in teaching in a kind way. And I find it so moving how Emil, when he is sent to the woodwork shed every time after he has misbehaved in order to do some thinking, is getting creative. He is not bitter, he makes the best of his time alone by carving figurines out of wood.
 
 

Junibacken | Setting reproductions from Astrid Lindgren’s stories | photos: Classiq Journal

 
 
That woodshed, one of the details in the story I am mostly fond of, you get to experience it in person at Junibacken. The Storybook Train is a small train that takes you on a ride through some of Astrid’s stories. The settings were created by illustrator Marit Törnqvist in close collaboration with Astrid herself, faithfully reproducing scenes and illustrations from the books. You feel like you are stepping right into Astrid’s world, the narration and music getting you even closer to the stories. It’s a one of a kind experience.

The entire place, seeing all those marvelous creations made for the love of children and storytelling, simply put a smile on my face that lasted all day long despite the harsh Northern weather we endured that day, a smile that returns every tine I recall the experience. There are also exhibitions and theatre performances based on works by the Nordic region’s finest authors of children’s books – they put on over 1,600 performances per year, Junibacken being one of the largest producers of children’s theatre in Sweden. And, naturally, there is a children’s bookshop, another attraction point for any book lover, small or big. It’s all in the spirit of dreaming away, for children and adults alike.
 
 
 

As seen in the photos above:
The first edition of “Emil i Lönneberga”, published in 1963.
One of the few editions in English with original illustrations by Björn Berg
(yes, Emil has to look a certain way and his cap, too): available here.
The Penguin Classics edition of “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson”: available here.

 
 

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