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Towards a greener future at Evvia

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.
FILM FESTIVAL/CLIMATE / In the wake of the catastrophic forest fires on Evvia, the Greek island has had its own film festival, which is fittingly also a meeting point for discussing climate, environment and sustainability.


When Greece was ravaged by catastrophic forest fires two years ago, the northern part of the country's second largest island, Evia, which lies outside Athens, was the hardest hit. Around a third of the island's forest areas were more or less burnt to ashes at the time. This summer's fires in the Mediterranean area have been a chilling echo of the same tragedy, where Evvia was once again among the affected areas, in addition to Rhodes, Corfu and parts of the Greek mainland.

This summer MODERN TIMES went back to Evvia to participate in the second edition of The Evia Film Project. Behind this film festival stands Thessaloniki international film festival, which already organizes a documentary film festival in March and a feature film festival in November in the aforementioned city – while this third annual initiative takes place at Evvia. The Evia Film Project was created to contribute to the reconstruction of the island and saw its first edition last year, the summer after the original fires. This year's edition was organized in the period 20 to 24 June, a few weeks before the new fires broke out. Equally, the climate-related destruction from two summers earlier was a serious backdrop, this year as last year.

Director Alexander Payne and festival director Elise Jalladeau from the opening of the second edition of The Evia Film Project.

Forest variety

During the bus journey from the mainland to the small town of Edipsos, which acts as a gathering point for the festival participants, you pass several of the areas with pitch-black pine and olive trees that characterize this part of the island. The same is true when moving from Edipsos to Limni and Agia Anna, the two other villages where the festival is held. As much as one needs it, the sight of burnt forest provides a strong reminder of why we are at Evvia, even if it Undeniably, being at a film festival on a Greek island in June also has its pleasant sides.

The sight of burnt forest provides a strong reminder of why we are at Evvia.

One can certainly object that a film festival is not the most obvious thing Evvia needs after such a crisis. The Evia Film Project is, however, only intended to be one of several measures to help the island get back on its feet. Appropriately enough, climate, environment and sustainability are overarching themes for the festival and are dealt with in all the films shown in the program – which includes documentaries and fiction films in a combination of new and older films. The Evia Film Project is not a big festival, but rather a meeting point to focus the spotlight on sustainability and green film production. In this sense, it has an important function for the visiting industry, in addition to the fact that the festival is intended to benefit the local residents. All films and other events – which also include outdoor concerts – are free and open to everyone. The spread of the festival over the three villages means that more permanent residents are reached – at the same time that the visitors both experience and support the local environment in more than just one place on the island.

The film screenings take place in two outdoor cinemas that have been restored by festivalone, of which the magnificent Apollon cinema in Edipsos had not been in use for nearly three decades before its reopening in connection with last year's Evia Film Project. Consequently, no films are shown until darkness falls over the island, while lectures, panel discussions and other events are organized during the day.

Satirical opening

Last year, The Evia Film Project was visited by veteran German director Volker Schlöndorff, not least known for the Oscar-winning feature film Blikktrommen from 1979. His recent climate documentary The Forest Maker was then shown as the final film at the festival. This year's edition opened with the feature film downsizing by Alexander Payne, who was present during the screening. The Greek-American filmmaker (who even received Greek citizenship last year) has visited the festival in Thessaloniki several times, and it is not impossible that his upcoming film The Holdovers will have its international premiere there in November.

downsizing was in turn an entertaining and relevant opening film for the Evvia festival. The film from 2017 is a satirical comedy about people who choose to shrink themselves to miniature size as a solution to the world's climate challenges, after some Norwegian scientists have come up with this technological breakthrough. downsizing was a far bigger production than the films the director was previously known for, and received a mixed reception from critics when it was released – and was a financial disappointment for the producers. It was an open-hearted Payne who met the audience at Evvia, where he also shared his current thoughts about the film's weaknesses. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable re-watch of a film that has to be said to be better than its reputation. In particular, the film's sharp, environmentally-related social satire feels even more relevant now than six years ago.

Controversial documentary

Among the documentaries on the program were Taming the Garden from 2021, which was shown at the Bergen International Film Festival in the same year. The film deals with a mildly unusual reforestation project in director Salomé Jashi's homeland Georgia: The extremely rich and powerful oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili has for several years bought a number of magnificent trees around the country to literally uproot them and plant them in his private park on the Black Sea coast. Despite the fact that he can be said to be the film's main character, Ivanishvili himself – who is also a former prime minister of Georgia – is absent and barely mentioned by name. Instead, the film concentrates on the painstaking process of digging up and transporting a few selected trees to this final destination. At the same time, it shows the different attitudes of the local Georgians to selling these trees, which could provide welcome income and finance much-needed infrastructure. The quietly observing documentary leaves it up to the viewer to reflect and possibly take a stand, but the highly absurd project it depicts says in itself a lot about economic inequality and people's thoughtless intervention in nature.

The film has also recently ended up at the center of disturbing events in the Georgian film community. Last year, the head of the national Georgian film center was deposed, and many are concerned that the ruling party will thereby exert ever stronger control over the content of the country's film production – which, by the way, has made a strong international mark in recent years. The same party was once established by Ivanishvili, and it is claimed that he still pulls the political strings. As seen at first in other fields of culture in Georgia, it is now feared that film is the next area to be subject to more direct control by the government – apparently triggered by the attention Taming the Garden has been shown at a number of international film festivals.

In addition to being present at the screening of the film held director Jashi a "master class" at Evvia for filmmakers and other interested parties. The Austrian documentary director Hubert did the same Soups, whose film We Come as Friends from 2014 was shown at the festival. In this film, he travels with a home-made small plane to the newly created state of South Sudan and gives a chaotic and revolting portrayal of the many faces of neo-colonialism, which includes military forces, missionaries and international companies with an interest in the country's natural resources. At the festival, the filmmaker gave an exciting insight into the work with his close-up and confrontational documentaries, which also include
ders the Oscar nominee Darwin's Nightmare from 2004.

Salome Jashi

Recording location for Triangle of Sadness

The Evia Film Project is not alone in having placed Evvia on the international film map. The northern part of the island was also used as a filming location for Swedish Ruben Östlund's feature film Triangle of Sadness, which won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival. During this year's festival at Evvia was location scouting paid extra attention to the industry participants through excursions to potential recording locations as well as a case study-presentation at the Greek co-producer of Östlund's film. If more filming is added to the varied and lush island, it will naturally also be positive for the local communities here.

It may seem paradoxical to fly to one Greek island to discuss climate and sustainability. But the film industry obviously has to deal with these questions and needs such arenas. More and more film productions keep reasonable climate accounts and employ their own coordinators for green implementation, which is also increasingly required by public donors. And it should hardly be necessary to point out that documentary films, but also fiction films, have long contributed to raising awareness of climatethe challenges we face.

An increasing number of film productions are sensibly keeping climate accounts and employing their own coordinators for green implementation.

It still remains to be seen whether The Evia Film Project will become a permanent annual event, but this year's repetition may indicate that. Possibly this project can also be an inspiration for festivals as well as the industry here at home?

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