Beasts of the Southern Wild

Such an odd, fantastical movie to be an Oscar nominee — but it absolutely deserved the honor.

In this film, the setting is a character. It’s the humid, aptly-named “Bathtub”, a semi-forgotten or purposely-ignored land isolated by a levee. The city seen in the distance must be New Orleans, but it might as well be Hong Kong for the impact it has on the lives of the Bathtub’s residents.

The place is at the nexus of the old consumerist world and the oncoming threat of rising waters and extreme weather. It cultures an isolated society with its own standards and its own mythologies. It also holds the castoff trash of modern urban society, which the residents use as they can for what they need to live.

One of the most fascinating parts of this film was the reaction of the Bathtub residents to being rescued by the mainlanders after the big storm. They didn’t see it as rescue at all — instead they saw it as imprisonment in an alien place. The Bathtub is a more organic place, closer to the elements and separated from modern convenience and political correctness.

Hushpuppy is a girl who is not raised by her father so much as grows on her own. She is fierce and resourceful, raised on a mix of survival lessons and dreamlike end-time stories. The young actress who played this part, Quvenzhane Wallis, did an amazing job. Her portrayal was honest and real. I also liked the performance of Dwight Henry, who played Hushpuppy’s father.

I won’t pretend to understand all of this movie, but it has stuck with me as I try to puzzle out its images. The film is full of fantasy and some magical realism, punctuated by visions of the ancient aurochs who race across the land as harbingers of destruction while they also signal the change between the ages.

A really interesting film — food for thought!

Here’s a link to the movie’s web page.

The Island President

The Island President is a 2011 documentary about the president of the Maldives and his fight to save his nation, which is being overcome by the rising sea levels of global warming.

The Maldives is a nation in the Indian Ocean, comprised of almost 2,000 islands, 200 of which are occupied. Its president during the production of this film was Mohamed Nasheed. Nasheed granted the director and crew close access during the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and during the summit itself.

Nasheed is passionate about the issue of climate change — understandable when we see the delicate, improbable beauty of his native islands. He is articulate, with a grasp of the influence of the worldwide media and how they could leverage his own efforts when he interacts with the powers of the world.

The film intersperses interviews with Nasheed with footage of the islands, many of which are only a few feet above sea level. Then the film crew follows Nasheed to Copenhagen. We watch him there as he networks with world leaders and pushes for the agreement of the developed nations to the Copenhagen Accord.

This sounds rather boring. It’s not.  It’s intriguing to see global politics from the viewpoint of a small participant. In America, we are only now feeling the first effects of global warming, as seen in the increase in severe storms. For the Maldives, it is seen in the steady eating away of the land people live on — so severe that the government has looked into purchasing land elsewhere for its citizens to move to when the islands must be abandoned.

The odd thing is that this film ends on a note of success — and Nasheed did succeed in getting an agreement to a nonbinding accord in 2009. But the crisis continues. The polar ice caps are melting fast, which will only push sea levels higher. The Maldives, and other low-lying places, are still at risk. In 2012, I don’t see any reason for celebration about the climate at all.