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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - October 15, 2010

Global focus

In its 13th year, the United Nations Association Film Festival shows 60 documentaries from 60 countries

by Rebecca Wallace

The phrases "reduce your carbon footprint" and "live green" can seem so vague that it's hard to find them personally meaningful. Sometimes it takes a filmmaker to illustrate an issue's human impact.

In this year's United Nations Association Film Festival, which opens Oct. 22 in Palo Alto, several movies do just that. One is "There Once Was An Island," in which the residents of Takuu are the faces of climate change. On this diminutive Pacific atoll in Papua, New Guinea, there have been many reports of the sea level rising.

Director Briar March and producer Lyn Collie show taro crops being harmed by salination from high tides — and, in dramatic footage, a "king tide" causing huge waves and flooding. A classroom is ruined, with a strong image showing rows of textbooks lying out to dry. And the whole island society must decide whether to stay on Takuu or move.

A reviewer for the online New Zealand arts journal The Lumiere Reader recently wrote of the film: "'An Island' derives its significant emotional impact primarily from the vulnerability and artlessness of the Takuu islanders. The director wisely ensures they are kept to the fore."

The 80-minute film, set for a 4 p.m. showing at Stanford University on Oct. 25, is one of 60 documentary features and shorts from 60 countries at this year's film festival. The theme of the 13th annual socially conscious film festival is "Population, Migration and Globalization."

Afternoon and evening screenings are in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and San Francisco and at Stanford University, through Oct. 31.

Another of the films dealing with the human cost of environmental crises is "Climate Refugees," directed and written by Michael Nash. The 95-minute movie looks at "climatically induced environmental disasters" such as droughts, sea-level rise, fires and extreme weather. "All this is causing mass global migration and border conflicts," Nash writes on the film's website.

Other themes in the festival, founded by Stanford lecturer Jasmina Bojic, include women's issues, children and the environment, immigration and homelessness.

Here are several festival highlights:

Opening night, Oct. 22, takes place at the Aquarius Theatre at 430 Emerson St. in Palo Alto. "Climate Refugees" will be screened at 7:25 p.m. with the filmmakers on hand, as a tribute to Stephen Schneider, a Stanford professor of environmental biology and global change who died recently. Schneider earned a collective Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

Films shown opening night also include "The Old Immigrants Dance," an American movie about four elderly Latinos trying to make a new life in the United States. That screening is set for 9:45 p.m.

Screenings continue at the Aquarius on Oct. 23 and 24, with titles including the American-Pakistani film "Bhutto," directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O'Hara. The 115-minute film, a profile of the late Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, will be shown at 5:30 p.m. Saturday with the filmmakers present.

"Sing China" is one of the films set for an Oct. 24 screening, at 6:45 p.m. Directed and produced by Freida Lee Mock, the 72-minute Chinese-American film follows the Los Angeles Children's Choir on a tour of China.

The festival moves to Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (in Encina Hall) on Oct. 25 and 26. "There Once Was An Island" will be screened at 4 p.m., followed by a panel discussion on "Climate-Change Impact on Population" at 5:20 p.m., and a reception with the filmmakers at 6:30 p.m.

Screenings will also be held in East Palo Alto on Oct. 26, at the Eastside College Prep theater at 2101 Pulgas Ave. Films include "Home is Where You Find It," a 27-minute piece about a 16-year-old AIDS orphan in Mozambique. Directed by Alcides Soares, it will be shown at 5 p.m.

Screenings will continue in various locations at Stanford University through closing day on Oct. 31. (Some films will also be shown in San Francisco on Oct. 27.) They include an Oct. 30 showing of "Gasland," an American film about domestic gas drilling and its possible hazards. Directed by Josh Fox, the 104-minute film will be shown in the Cantor Arts Center at 12:45 p.m., followed by a panel discussion called "Deregulation: Solution or Problem?"

Also on Oct. 30 is a showing of "Queen of the Sun," which looks at the disappearance of bees in many countries, incorporating interviews with scientists, beekeepers and philosophers. The 83-minute film was directed by Taggart Siegel.

What: The United Nations Association Film Festival screens 60 films from 60 countries.

Where: Screenings are in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and San Francisco, and at Stanford University.

When: Oct. 22-31, with afternoon and evening screenings

Cost and info: Ticket prices vary. Some events, including the opening-night screenings and all panel discussions, are free. Other screenings can be paid for with a single ticket or a daily or festival pass. For ticket details and a full schedule, go to or call 650-724-5544.


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