Filmmakers find an unexpected niche: environmental documentaries

Filmmaker Esther Wieser knows what it takes to make a movie. A polio survivor in Auschwitz, she wrote and starred in 1998’s “Passion of the People,” a book tour for which included a stop…

Filmmakers find an unexpected niche: environmental documentaries

Filmmaker Esther Wieser knows what it takes to make a movie. A polio survivor in Auschwitz, she wrote and starred in 1998’s “Passion of the People,” a book tour for which included a stop at Auschwitz, where she recounted the horrific and inspiring story of her escape from the Nazis and her efforts to make love to his brother.

The movie became a hit, and 30 years later, “Lions of Potsdam,” Wieser’s still-unreleased follow-up to the film, is just one of more than 300 documentaries released by the Sobel Organisation, the organization founded by Holocaust survivor Michael Sobel. For Sobel’s son Stu, while making a documentary is “very interesting,” it’s much more important that Sobel actually be present to acknowledge the film — to begin reconciling with the humanity who survived what their father had survived.

An international group of directors created the award-winning award-winning environmental documentary “Burden,” about the petrochemical industry and its effect on human and environmental health. The producers of “Burden” shared with The Washington Post some of their environmental concerns — other than the film’s own problematic subject matter. “This is a story, of course, which is not a positive one,” said Aaron Hackett, an English director of films that include 2009’s “The Last Reel” about the closing of New York’s last Jewish deli. “It’s not an issue of love. It’s an issue of technology.”

Another award-winning film, “The Price of Forgiveness,” tells the true story of a Japanese man’s struggle with the guilt of propping up a warlord while he was captured in World War II. The film was produced by Laurent Bouzereau, a former president of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where he’s screened such documentaries as 2000’s “The Price of Forgiveness.” He believes that the documentaries being made today are reaching a younger audience than in the past, because many millennials grew up in fear of terrorism.

“This generation wants to have balance and they want to know what to do,” Bouzereau said. “They can see the effect of warfare not only on the battlegrounds but on people. I think what comes out in many documentaries is the truth, not the lie.”

Entering the first decade of this century, there has been a sustained commitment to making films addressing social and environmental issues. Film festival film juror Emily Tschudin-Croal believes the recent changes in the documentary film industry have been connected to the recurring outrage and anger over the continuing environmental crises in this country.

“There’s a growing demand for stories that are more relevant to the world we live in today, that have more of a human touch,” says Tschudin-Croal, who is executive director of the Media Access Project. “We’re also seeing … I would say an increase in kind of young, artist driven films and documentaries that really are doing the work of doing social and environmental justice.”

After making five films, director Chris Karmazin now seeks to “center the stories of people in lives that are living on the other side of the gritty side of living.” Her work, however, doesn’t focus on the environmental crisis. Instead, Karmazin’s work has previously, through their work with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, highlighted the stories of living veterans. Her most recent film, “Positive Air,” as Karmazin puts it, is “an interstitial documentary that sort of asks, ‘What does it mean to live while you’re living and how is that relevant to our future?’”

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