Verde Laguna: Environmental films get the 'Grad' award

And the Verde Laguna Award for environmental documentary film in the "Materials & Resources" category goes to "Waste Land" from Brazilian director Lucy Walker, and in the "Energy & Atmosphere" category the award goes to "Gasland," a film by Josh Fox.

Without any commercial interruption (we have no sponsors), the award for animated short in the "Environmental Air Quality" category goes to "Let's Pollute!" a wonderful cartoon about waste by illustrator and Pixar veteran Geefwee Boedoe.

Finally, as best foreign-language film under the "Sustainable Site" category, the award goes to "Sun Come Up," co-produced by Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger, a quick video about the world's first climate change refugees (nominated under a different category by the other Academy).

The "Waste Land" website,, welcomes visitors with an out-of-focus photo of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and the phrase, "What happens in the world's largest trash city will transform you."

This movie, directed by Walker and produced by Fernando Miralles (director of the award winner "City of God"), in 2010 won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary, the Berlin Film Festival Panorama Audience Award for Best Film and the IDFA Audience Award for Best Documentary.

The realization of the film took nearly three years, and it is a narrative voyage in which director Walker follows the renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located outside Rio de Janeiro.

Muniz, a Brazilian who began his career as a sculptor and gradually became exclusively a photographer, arrived to Jardim Gramacho and started talking photographs of an eclectic band of "catadores" (name used for the pickers of recyclable materials) and soon the collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage revealed both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to reimagine their lives. This work concluded in assemblage portraits constructed entirely out of garbage.

As for "Gasland," winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival — "When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarked on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination," according to the film's website, "A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light the drinking water on fire — one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called 'Gasland.'"

"Gasland" is spreading public awareness about gas drilling and the risks it posses on human and environmental health. Fox's question on this long journey is if the technology of "fracking" is safe.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of pumping millions of gallons of water along with a mix of sand and fluids deep into the earth to break apart the rock below and free the gas locked inside it.

Of his short film, filmmaker Geefwee Boedoe states on his website, " 'Let's Pollute' was a very personal project for me, dealing with a subject matter I'm extremely passionate about. Through humor, the film tackles the serious subject of pollution and waste in a way that is, I hope, accessible to a wide audience. The film acts as a funhouse mirror to our modern lifestyle, inviting viewers to laugh at themselves a bit while they think about and perhaps reconsider some of their habits. It raises the question, will you, and society as a whole, continue down the road of destruction, or take a new path?"

It took Boedoe three years in his home studio in El Cerrito, to draw all the line work on paper with a black lithographic pencil and created the textures primarily with India ink on plastic sheets, rather than computer synthetic effects; and only after he scanned them and artwork into his computer for editing.

The short was produced in a retro 1950s style as a satire on how pollution is our heritage and keeps our economy growing strong from before the Industrial Revolution to the present. The estimated budget of the film, not including volunteer labor and in-kind donations, was under $15,000.

Before the last award, an honorable mention to the runner up in the "Sustainable Site" category to "The Warriors of Qiugang," in which filmmaker Ruby Yang follows the fight against the pollution that is wracking many villages in China's industrial heartland. In Qiugang's case, three major enterprises with little or no pollution controls churned out chemicals, pesticides, and dyes, turning the local river black, killing fish and wildlife, and filling the air with foul fumes that burned residents' eyes and throats and sickened children, according to the website for co-producer Yale Environment 360,

"Sun Come Up" tells the story of six small islands in the South Pacific that are fast losing ground to rising sea levels. This brought the 1,000 habitants living on the islands to make the agonizing decision to relocate their community before it disappears under the waters, leaving behind the land their families occupied for generations. The older people spent their whole lives there, and "have no interest in moving and adapting to a new society or culture." But the younger generations are looking at things differently. "They're looking ahead at how to rebuild their community somewhere else," Redfearn told blogger Ben Jervey. This heartbreaking, true story may give second thoughts to those climate change deniers.

I understand that most of your attention Sunday night went to the actors walking away with the statuettes, but it personally interested me more to learn that the Oscar economy "is estimated to create jobs for at least 7,000 people and generate more than $130 million in spending," according to the LA Times. In a bad economy, everything helps.

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at

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