Oscars documentary films highlight man’s destruction of nature

Oscars documentary nominees highlight man's destruction of nature
Shaunak Sen, director of documentary ''All That Breathes'' during an interview with Reuters in London, credit: Reuters/Ben Makori

Nominees in the documentary category of the Oscars, which takes place on Sunday, have been chronicling man’s destruction of nature. From the polluted skies of New Delhi to the disappearing sea ice of Siberia, “All That Breathes” and “Haulout” use local stories to shine a global spotlight on man’s destruction of nature on Earth.

“Haulout,” the first indigenous Yakut filmmakers’ nomination for an Oscar, follows marine biologist Maxim Chakilev in Siberia investigating the disastrous impact of the climate crisis on walrus populations.

The short film begins with stunning shots of the Arctic coastline as Chakilev waits patiently for migrating walruses to arrive. Suddenly thousands of the animals appear squashed together on the beach outside his hut.

It looks like a mesmerizing spectacle, but the audience later learns it is the result of the loss of sea ice. The dangerous overcrowding has deadly effects. In one heartbreaking scene, a malnourished walrus pup is seen poking at the body of his dead mother before weakly trying to swim off into the ocean.

Brother-and-sister filmmakers Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva told news agency AFP that their Oscar nomination in the documentary short film category was hugely celebrated in their homeland. They plan to bring Chakilev to the glamorous film awards gala in Los Angeles.

“We just hope that we can join the chorus of scientists and artists from all over the world and contribute to this conversation on the dire state of our planet,” Arbugaeva said.

The spotlight on their homeland is vital to show how the climate crisis is disrupting life for humans and animals, in wildly different ways, all across the globe. “We have access to that very crucial area of the Arctic,” she said. “Talking from the native land, I think that’s very, very important.”

“All That Breathes” is a feature-length documentary set in India’s capital, Delhi. It also examines how animals have been forced to change their behavior due to the destructive consequences of human activity.

It tells the story of three men who have dedicated their lives to an improvised and mostly self-funded wildlife clinic, caring for hundreds of birds falling victim to Delhi’s polluted air each day.

“Hundreds of birds falling out of the sky every day. What amazes me is that people go on as if everything’s normal,” one of the men said to his wife.

The men discuss how the birds have learned to feed on trash, collect cigarette butts as a parasite repellent and even sing at a higher pitch to communicate over Delhi’s noisy traffic. In addition to the toxic air, many birds are injured by the strings of toy kites flown by humans.

Shaunak Sen, the director of “All That Breathes,” said he wanted to make audiences “consider the entanglement of human and non-human life.”

He added that the recent surge of environment-focused films is “not enough. It should be way more, given how much attention the planetary condition requires.”


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