By Gareth Wasylynko
Upon my arrival in Durban in mid-May and hearing the name “Green Screens DBN” for the first time, void of context, a range of different images popped into my head. On one hand the name conjured associations to a movie set of limitless potential, while on the other hand, I imagined the mixed bag of emotions experienced when watching most environmental films, ranging from helplessness to unfettered determination. Upon later discovering the name’s apt description of eThekwini Municipality intern’s Alice Stevenson and Ally Cunliffe’s SEED Fund project, now in context, I then came to appreciate the cleverness of the name. In short, they nailed it.
But enough about the name, what is Green Screens DBN?
Residing in the South African metropolis of Durban on the country’s gorgeous east coast, Ally and Alice created Green Screens DBN to address a perceived lack of civic engagement in environmental discourse. Recognizing that discussions of environmental sustainability in Durban seemed to be isolated to the government ranks or academia, the project aimed to strengthen public awareness of environmental issues through the creation of a safe space for education and dialogue. In its final form, Green Screens DBN became a three part series of environmental film screenings where the purpose of each film would be to promote the discussion of a particular environmental issue amongst attendees.
To transform Green Screens DBN from a simple project proposal with a snazzy name to a film series promoting environmental awareness and stimulating meaningful conversations, there was much work to be done. Ally and Alice had to secure an appropriate venue, select and procure three films, and market the series to students, municipal workers, academics, and of course, the general public. Following a few short weeks of planning, Green Screens DBN was set to debut Part One of the trilogy after establishing a partnership with Studio 031, a “creative thinking space” (http://www.studio031.co.za/) in Durban’s happening Station Drive District, selecting the film “Elemental” for the premiere.
Part One – “Elemental” on April 26th
As the first installment of the film and dialogue series, “Elemental” was chosen to stimulate discussion on a wide range of environmental challenges across the globe, but primarily about individual action and its capacity to influence meaningful change. Rather than focusing on a particular environmental issue, the film highlights the role of pro-active and relentless individuals in the fight against ecological devastation. Through the weaving of three unique stories of environmental optimism against devastating adversity, “Elemental” uses these three vignettes to showcase selected examples of activism in Australia, Canada and India.
Part Two – “The Shore Break” on May 25th
I had the personal pleasure of attending Part Two of Green Screens DBN at Studio 031, witnessing firsthand the diversity of attendees; from municipal staff, to suburban mothers, to keen high school students hungry “to save the world”. Through sharing the experience of “The Shore Break”, a film set in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province bordering Durban’s province KwaZulu-Natal, this eclectic mix of attendees was exposed to a highly controversial land use issue in their own backyard.
“The Shore Break” tells the true story of two cousins, each with a starkly opposing stance on the potential development of a titanium mine and tolled highway in their traditional homeland. While the young eco-tour guide Nonhle advocates for her Pondo peoples long-held relationship to nature, her cousin Madiba believes in industrial modernization as the only legitimate solution to their community’s poor access to jobs and infrastructure. In contrasting these two characters, the film offers insight into the motivations of both those for and against modern industrial development. Ultimately after a “café style” discussion amongst smaller groups, attendees were forced to consider the trade-offs of resource extraction in rural South Africa. In essence, how can financial wealth and jobs be created without ecological and cultural devastation? Discussion eventually came to revolve around the question of “what is wealth” and how should we measure it? Can the wealth of human beings be simplistically quantified as income or job availability, or do we need to consider the invaluable traditions, cultural practices and longstanding attachment to land when making decisions about rural development.
Part Three – “Trashed” on June 30th
For the third and final film of Green Screens DBN, “Trashed” was selected to draw attention to the specific issue of waste management and how poor practices can have very real, sobering implications at both local and global scales. The British documentary follows globetrotting actor Jeremy Irons as he positions himself as a naive explorer researching different strategies of waste control at all corners of the Earth. As the host and narrator of the film, his position as an inquisitive non-scientist allowed for the communicating of complicated scientific processes in a simple and refined manner.
While undoubtedly a hot topic of interest here in Durban due to a lack of infrastructure and public participation in recycling, the film outlined the global implications that derive from wasteful consumption habits at a local level. Examples investigated by Irons in the film included the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the spreading of toxic dioxins through waste incineration, two causes of concern that exemplify the delicate nexus between local decision making and global impact. Because after all, it is not our management of waste that is causing environmental degradation and human health hazards, but our initial creation of waste and tendency towards one-time use products.
Instead of a formalized dialogue and discussion following the showing of the film, special guests from The Maker’s Space, a “gym for creativity” in Durban, gave a showcase on their plastic recycling machine created in their studio. Resembling a larger than life industrial blender, the machine was built as part of the Precious Plastics movement to “create machines that enable anyone to recycle plastic” (more information at preciousplastic.com) with the goal of creating opportunities for bottom-up solutions to waste management. At this point in time, the Maker’s Space has just one recycling machine built, but they do not plan to stop there. They intend to get more machines built and positioned throughout the city with the hope of bringing accessible plastic recycling into the mainstream.
The legacy Green Screens DBN will leave behind is held within the message that collaboration on environmental issues cannot be reduced to compartmentalized thinking where action is segregated between the government, academia, and the general public. That although dialogue and discussion is just the first step towards progress, the responsibility for the next step of action falls to each and everyone one of us, be it big or small.
This message is why I love the name Green Screens for this series. As I picture the limitless possibilities of a green screen on a movie set, I see the metaphor of our opportunity to choose the setting of the future, that nothing is yet decided. But within that, the realization that feelings of unfettered determination must outlast feelings of helplessness. As we hurl further into the 21st century and deeper into environmental tragedies, that through awareness, dialogue and action, we can make informed and positive choices about our relationship with the natural landscape. In the process of learning from past mistakes, we can make choices about development that not only respect our deep-seeded ties to the natural world but to essential human traditions at risk of displacement.