Apocalypse soon: Disasters abound at Stockholm Film Festival

Apocalypse soon: Disasters abound at Stockholm Film Festival
Scene from Haeundae, directed by Je-gyun Yun (South Korea)
It's the end of the world as we know it at this year's Stockholm Film Festival, which promises everything a budding apocalypticist could ever need. But there are also plenty of more upbeat cinematic treats in store if global doom isn't your bag, writes David Stavrou.

As it comes to a close it seems like 2009 will be remembered as one of the most worrying years of the decade. It has seen the worst financial crisis since the great depression, a deadly virus which is still taking its toll and some of the more troubling regimes in the world getting closer than ever to adding nuclear weapons to their arsenal.

Wars and local conflicts are still tearing apart societies worldwide and even the Nobel Peace Prize was given out not to someone who has helped bringing one of them to an end, but to someone who hopefully will do so in the future. On top of all this, world leaders will meet in December in Copenhagen to try to deal with the results of global warming and save us all from an apocalyptical global nightmare caused by climate change.

It is in this climate that the organizers of Stockholm’s annual film festival decided to concede to the sign of the times. The 12 day festival, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, will be screening 180 films from more than 50 countries, many of them strongly related to or inspired by the troubled present. This years’ festival spotlight, for example, is “Apocalypse – The time is now”. Catastrophes, both natural and man-made, will be the focus of many of the festival’s films and events and a green carpet will join the traditional red one in order to highlight the environmental issue.

“The Apocalypse theme was chosen because we found a number of truly interesting films from all around the world dealing with the subject in their own unique way”, says George Ivanov, the festival’s programme director, “I think the reason for that is that we’re becoming really aware of what it means to be a global community”. “In a sense this is the era of globalism”, he adds, “and we have to face the great opportunities and dangers of it. This is a very cinematic concept”.

Some of the festival-goers might not be looking for doomsday prophesies, so here are some of the films you might want to avoid if you’re trying to get away from troubling headlines and warnings of the end of the world as we know it: “9” is an animated dystopian sci-fi film by Shane Acker in which machines and artificial intelligence have taken over and mankind has been obliterated. “The Road” by John Hillcoat, is a post-apocalyptic tale based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, in which a father and son fight for survival in a world no longer suitable for human life. “Haeundae” is a Korean disaster movie about a tsunami heading to a popular beach resort, and “Earth Days” by Robert Stone is a documentary about the evolution of the environmental movement since the early sixties.

Other films under the apocalypse title are “The Cove”, a documentary about the massacre of thousands of dolphins in Japan made undercover by American photographer Louis Psihoyos, “Happy End” about humanity on the brink of oblivion, and the short film “Waiting Room”.

But the festival’s programme isn’t limited to films about future and present disasters. A rich programme featuring some of the most interesting films made this year will combine screenings in seven Stockholm cinemas along with special events, outdoor screenings, competitions, galas and award ceremonies. This year’s visionary award and lifetime achievement award will go to French filmmaker, Luc Besson and American actress Susan Sarandon respectively, and a record number of directors and actors will join Sarandon and Besson in attending the festival

Still, while the programme may include something for every taste, those who are interested in current events and international politics will find several particularly interesting screenings. Some examples include Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” which echoes the current financial crises and features George Clooney as an executive who specializes in firing employees for cowardly bosses, “London River” by Rachid Bouchared which deals with the aftermath of the London 2005 Terror attacks, and “The Time that Remains” about the daily lives of Israel’s Arab population.

Other interesting titles dealing with current events from around the world and interpretations of reality in some of the world’s most complicated regions are “Sin Nobre”, an acclaimed thriller depicting Mexican gang culture, “Heliopolis”, a critical look at present-day Egyptian society and two films about Iran. “Green Days” by Hana Makhmalbaf is the first big screen take on the dramatic events of the June presidential elections and the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mehran Tamadon’s “Bassidji” is a documentary about the extremist Iranian police militia.

These are indeed troubling days and organizers and visitors of major cultural and artistic events worldwide are looking for a balance between ignoring the headlines and being overwhelmed by them. The Stockholm International Film Festival succeeds in doing exactly that. Films, as Jean-Luc Godard once said, are something between art and life, both giving and taking from it. They are not always about avoiding reality by creating alternative worlds; they can sometimes be about understanding the world better, maybe even changing it. And, as the festival’s spotlight indicates, the time for that is definitely now.

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