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About the Author

Tania Rabesandratana
Journalist (Brussels, Belgium)

Multilingual science writer with itchy feet and wide interests.


MDGs on the big screen (1)

Published 20th June 2010 - 14 comments - 3183 views -

Here are the two first documentaries I've seen as part of the Millenium Film Festival, held in Brussels this week.
If I were to give star ratings, the first one would get just one (in my view, it's a compilation of what not to do to tell compelling development stories), and the second would earn a whole constellation.

DON'T: Cerca de tus ojos (Spain, 2009)

Veteran cinema producer Elías Querejeta chose an uncommon format for his first feature movie. Cerca de tus ojos is not a straightforward documentary, but rather a collection of archive footage about war, famine, disease, death, violence and injustice. The narrative is slim – and fake: the images are merely patched together around a fictional character (world reporter Ana) and a voice-over (Ana’s father) that enumerates the fundamental Human Rights.

The archive research and editing are admirable, but the end-result feels like 80 minutes of horrible TV news. A lot of anonymous pain that made me look away several times. The movie is good at one thing: showing the universality of wrong. There are bad people everywhere and victims on all sides, whatever their religion, age, sex, etc. Other than that, I found Cerca de tus ojos heavy-going, preachy, patronising and simplistic, visually poor, and worryingly dispiriting.

Millenium showed this film outside the official competition. Other people in the room found it eye-opening and powerful, and believe it should be made compulsory viewing in schools… Cerca de tus ojos should hit Spanish cinemas in September this year before being translated into other languages, so you can see for yourself and tell me what you thought!


DO: There once was an island (New Zealand, 2009)

On a completely different note, There once was an island is a joy to watch on the big screen. Over four years, director Briar March filmed life on Takuu, a small island of Papua-New Guinea. The community is threatened by rapid sea level rises caused by climate change. March follows the hopes and fears of several endearing, intelligent characters. How do they relate to their land, people and resources? Will they leave the island to save their families? There once was an island is gripping, subtle and genuine. It’s a moving story and a multilayered, committed reflection about our place on Earth, with heaps of natural South Pacific beauty thrown in.

During the first part of the shoot, the community asked for scientists to come and look at the atoll, so they could understand (and ideally predict) what happens to the island. March located two scientists, oceanographer John Hunter, and geomorphologist Scott Smithers, and brought them with the film crew to Takuu the second time round. Seeing the two scientists genuinely sharing knowledge with the community members is one the most enlightening moments of the film; I certainly needed to be shown how smart and knowledgeable the islanders are.

The Millenium festival jury awarded this film the Best Development message prize and I can only applaud their choice. Worldwide screening dates are available here.

Category: Media | Tags:


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 20th June 2010:

    thanks for posts. luck you that you can participate in the event smile I saw “There once was an island” in Prague in March and your right - it’s great to see it on the big screen… the film itself tell about very important issue and it was sad to see the island disappearing… however it wasn’t my number 1 during the One World Festival in Prague…
    Please keep posting about films you are watching smile

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 20th June 2010:

    and my number ones…. 2008 -
    2009 -

  • Tania Rabesandratana on 20th June 2010:

    Thank you Iwona! I’ll have a look at the documentaries you mention and I’ll post about other movies in the coming days smile

  • Johan Knols on 21st June 2010:

    Despite the good intentions, these movies don’t attract the large crowds that are needed to make an impact.
    I suggest that (American) blockbusters that deal with disasters, diseases and other future threatening topics, have a comment at the end like:
    “The events in this movie where fiction. For how much longer?”

  • Tania Rabesandratana on 21st June 2010:

    I quite like your idea, Johan. Although blockbuster viewers enjoy disaster movies precisely because it’s “fiction” - a human story they can relate to, but remote enough so they don’t feel uncomfortable.
    Maybe development issues need to find themselves a tireless Al-Gore-ish figure.

  • Johan Knols on 22nd June 2010:


    Development is too broad an issue to be covered by one figure. You can tell from this platform how diverse the topic can be.
    The idea with the blockbusters would work. People visit the fictional movies to not feel uncomfortable, but get slammed over the head with a message at the end.

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 22nd June 2010:

    Hey, thanks for sharing.
    @Johan: do you only point at the above mentioned documentaries when you say “these movies”? Because I remember another developmen/globalisation-documentary that was even nominated for an Oscar: Darwin’s nightmare (2005)

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 22nd June 2010:

    Also burma VJ was nomonated to Oscar this year

    Darwin’s Nightmare was prohibited in Tanzania because it shows what Tanzanian president doesn’t want to be shown smile

  • Johan Knols on 22nd June 2010:


    Does the fact that a movie gets nominated automatically mean that a lot of people will watch it? Not in comparison with the pulp we get dished up and draw huge crowds to the cinemas.

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 22nd June 2010:

    @ Johan
    Well- no, not in comparision yet. But I prefer to look at the exceptions, that, I think, are becoming more and more numerous.

    Some facts: Darwin’s nightmare had an international gross of $2,979,841. In comparison: the most succesful blockbuster of 2005, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, had an international gross of $848,754,768. Quite a difference, true.


    The documentary that beat Darwin’s nightmare in the 2006 Oscars, the March of the Penguins, did quite well: $127,392,693. Ok, it is not the most critical nature documentary I have seen, but still. In 2006, Blood Diamond became the world’s 56th most popular movie with an international gross of $171,407,179.

    Source: Box Office Mojo

  • Helena Goldon on 11th August 2010:

    Tania, whereas “Cerca de tus ojos” may not be a straightforward documentary, the techniques in the trailer you referred to are pretty cheap… and straightforward wink
    The second one looks very good though!
    My favourite documentary?
    Watch this!

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 12th August 2010:

    @Helena - They use the music in the background from The Constant Gardener, aren’t they?

  • Helena Goldon on 12th August 2010:

    @ Iwona - that’s right, Ayub Oghada - will be using same sound in one of my audios that I am going to post soon!

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 12th August 2010:

    @Helena - looking forward for your new post. And how do you find The Constant Gardener? Some loves it, so hates. After watching it I had a very negative imagine about Africa.

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