By Jan van den Berg
In September 2011, I traveled to Gabala, Azerbaijan, to show my documentary Silent Snow to the important audience of the 11th International HCH and Pesticide Forum. The film, about the consequences of pollution caused by the use of dangerous pesticides like DDT, was successfully received and later shown in over 35 countries at cinemas and international film festivals. Most importantly, it succeeded to inspire many people to take action and organize local initiatives to inform each other on a healthier way of producing food.
This fall I was therefore happy to return to the now 12th edition of the Forum in Kiev, Ukraine, which would host a preview of my first short film under the new Silent Land project: When elephants dance, the grass gets beaten. The project is a sequel to the Silent Land documentaries and has the objective to inform people about the effects of land grabbing for small local farms. In ‘When elephants dance’ we see how local farmers in Cambodia are losing their land to large multinationals and are faced with forced migration and food insecurity. Almost three quarter of the available land for agriculture in Cambodia has been sold to companies that produce for export only. As this is disastrous for the local food production, the World Food Program supports vulnerable parts of the population with food supplies. In the mean time, the exile of farmers continues. Since 2003, more than 400.000 Cambodians have been chased off their lands as a result of land grabbing. The stories I’ve heard about being an illegal migrant, the exploitation and having to work with dangerous pesticides are heartbreaking.
As I discovered on my journey to Kiev, in the Ukraine there's also still a lot of dangerous poison just lying out in the open. Often these toxic materials are located just next to children's playgrounds and it is very difficult to get rid of it in a safe way. It was again a great honor to be able to show my film to an audience of experts on this topic and I received very valuable feedback. The screening was held up a bit as the Communist Party held a demonstration outside the building against capitalism, while inside we discussed the dangerous left overs from Soviet Union's development aid. Main character ‘Moon’ attended the conference through a Skype-call and was very pleased with the compliments for the film.
As for the Silent Land project as a whole; after the premiere of the first short film we will continue working on the feature length documentary, which will offer a more worldwide perspective on the same issues. Early January, ‘When elephants dance’ will be screened on a Conference for Biology teachers in the Netherlands and the official world premiere will take in Antwerp on January 22nd, in combination with an expert panel discussion on land grabbing and food security. Furthermore, the film was part of the IDFA Docs for Sale selection last fall and will be screened on international film festivals like Parnu in Estonia, Cinemambiente in Italy and Festival du Film d’Environment in France this year. The project’s educational material will also be soon available for schools, as part of the OXFAM GROW campaign.
More info on www.silentland.org