Cleveland International Film Festival } March 25 – April 5, 2020 } Tower City Cinemas

Director's Films Observe without Judging

March 29, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When she was in college, Jennifer Baichwal was on the academic track as she studied philosophy and theology. However, she found that academia engaged the intellect only. “I turned to documentary as a more accessible way of exploring the subjects that preoccupied me then (and still do today), and found that film—like all art—has the capacity to move people, not just intellectually, but viscerally and emotionally as well,” says Baichwal.

Ten feature documentaries later, Baichwal confirms, “I knew from the moment I started shooting that I had found my vocation. And I feel incredibly lucky to be able to continue to do this work that I love.”

Baichwal is this year’s winner of the Director’s Spotlight at CIFF. Out of her extensive work, she is best known for her trilogy of documentaries on the environment: “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006), “Watermark” (2013), and the recent “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” (2018).

Each film is being shown at this year’s Festival, as each film adds to the trilogy. “Manufactured Landscapes,” according to Baichwal, “took you to places you were responsible for but would never normally see, and tried to translate that experiential understanding into the time-based medium of film.”

Then, “‘Watermark’ deepened that somewhat by exploring a dialectic of scale and detail: trying to understand the enormity of human influence on water, but also following the detailed narratives implicit in this enormity, because these are what give it meaning,” she says.

Lastly, Baichwal comments, “‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’ adds the dimension of trying to think in geological time and on a planetary scale.”

The films cover different ways of looking at humans’ impacts on the environment, and they share a common mode of operating. Baichwal says, “There is a shared philosophy in the three films that tries to shift consciousness by revealing rather than accusing, by creating a space for reflection on our responsibility for global environmental change, rather than … telling people what to think about what they are looking at.” This way of observing without forcing judgement has been very well received.

“I think trying to make these contexts, places, and concepts aesthetically compelling or intriguing is a way of drawing viewers in and inviting them to linger longer, to think in a sustained way about implication,” she says. The non-judgmental and aesthetically pleasing themes are second only to the idea of hope.

Baichwal observes people and other species in some of the most difficult environments, “living and grappling and managing in them every day.” But even though she and her crew are there for days, maybe weeks, the experiences of the people she meets never leave her.

—W. Connor Drake

PHOTO: Jennifer Baichwal is the winner of this year’s Director’s Spotlight award. She is able to find positivity out of struggles. “But even in the most degraded environments, there are so many incursions of dignity, striving, and hope,” she says. “These incursions are what make me hopeful, and make the films an act of hope.”

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Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 4:15 PM – Watermark
03/28/19 @ 6:30 PM – Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
03/29/19 @ 12:10 PM – Watermark
03/29/19 @ 2:30 PM – Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
03/29/19 @ 5:00 PM – Manufactured Landscapes

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