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Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Green Gardener




Dibyajyoti Sarma talks to Michael Greif, project manager ECOMOVE, on environmental issues, on Germany, India and beyond...



Can films spread awareness? Especially when the issue at hand is environment? There are some people who think it can. Michael Greif is one of them.
Michael Greif is in Pune as the part of the ongoing screenings of environmental films at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) organised by ECOMOVE, in association of Max Mueller Bhavan. Greif has brought a series of environment-related films to be screened in the Indian subcontinent till the month of March. Titled Borderless: Humans and Environment in a Global World, a series of eleven films, which was screened from January 21- 25 at the NFAI, now travels to Mumbai before Greif takes them to other Indian cities, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta, then Dhaka and Lahore.
An impressive itinerary and an ambitious project. But first about Grief himself.
Michael Greif studied politics and philosophy before working on a research project on environmental policies. Then he joined ECOMOVE in 2001 where he works as a project manager. ECOMOVE is a small organisation with four or five core members, and Greif is one of the important part of it, and other than overseeing India related activities, he also works towards raising funds, looks for new projects as well as handles the organisations website.
Then, the next obvious question, what does ECOMOVE do?
“Simply, ECOMOVE is a network of environment film festivals,” explains Greif. “How it all began is little complicated. It first began in the German city of Freiburg, then moved to Berlin in 1985 where it organises an environmental film festival every two years.”
But the organisation is active in other areas as well. It supports and promotes audio-visual media dealing with environmental issues and sustainable development throughout the world. It organises film events, carries out educational projects and provides supporting services.
And how does ECOMOVE achieves that? “That’s a difficult task,” says Greif. “First, there are very few films on environment. Finding information about them is not very easy. Most of our energy go into looking for films, traveling to different film festivals, communicating to different media organisations, television centres and so on.” The next issue is of funds. “Like anywhere else, we are also tight when it comes to funds. For example, this film event for India is sponsored by the German ministry of environment, and the Max Mueller Bhavans in India have provided us the platform. Otherwise, it would have been quite impossible to bring these films to India.”
So, what does ECOMOVE do to raise funds? “Mostly we do projects for the government. European Union is also a great source of fund for us.” Greif informs how ECOMOVE did a project for children aged 14-19, giving them necessary equipments to make a film on an environmental issues. “The result was just fantastic. It’s unbelievable, how young people can add a new perspective to the whole issue.”
Now, the next big question. Can films spread awareness? Yes. It does. Greif is impressed by the response of the Pune audience for the last few days. “Apart from viewing a film, its very important to discuss about it.” Hence, Greif makes a point of not only introducing the film before the screening, but also discuss about it once the film is over. “It’s not always possible. But whenever we can, we try to do that. A film may not be able to cover an issue in its entirety. A discussion can fill that gap. We are all talking about globalisation, but there’s a different levels of complexity with globalisation. It’s very important to understand it. And sometimes, these films can be very depressing, projecting a grim situation, without even offering a solution. But we don’t want to leave people depressed. There is always a hope even in most desperate situations, and there’s always a solutions to even worse of problems. We plan to highlight that.”
Point taken. A film’s perspective is often limited. Discussion can broaden it. But a film is always a good start.
But why the name ‘Borderless?’ Are environmental issues are same everywhere? Yes and no, answers Greif. “An issue may look local at the first glance, but in the long run it’s connected to the world. He gives the example of cotton. Right now, cotton industry may be a very Indian issue but its roots lie in European attitude to it. For example, we Germans are not ready to spend any extra Euros for our t-shirts.”
For the current series, Greif has brought together eleven films from various parts of India. What are the criteria in selecting the films? Greif points out three important norms: different topics, though they are from different countries with different perspectives, they should be relevant to India and most importantly, unique presentation of the issue. His cites Erik Gandini’s film Surplus as an example of this.
What next in the agenda? “My journey with the films in India ends in March. But the cause of spreading awareness should not end here. We plan to take license of the films and make them accessible to whoever may be interested. At least we can keep the copies in the Max Mueller Bhavans across India which can be used as texts. We also plan to bring together a series of film on environment for children. This is difficult. You have to extremely careful in choosing films for children.”
Michael Greif is in Pune for last one week. What does he think about the environment scene in Pune? “Honestly, I haven’t seen much of Pune,” he answers. Still! “Yes, the situation is quite bad. But it can be changed.” He gives the example of Germany in the 1970s. There was a time when the rivers were so polluted that it was impossible to swim there. Then there ensued a civil movement and it was successful in tackling the obvious problems. By ’80s you could swim in the rivers again. Greif pauses for a moment and then adds, “Then, we could export some of our dirty industries like coal to other countries like India.”
You agree. When it comes to environment, Michael Greif knows.

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