Tales from Tales

Last weekend, CHE alumnus Peter Boger and UW-Madison Professor Gregg Mitman once again organized the Tales from Planet Earth film festival, this time around the theme of “Belief.” We were there, and these films were some of our favorites.

All the Time in the World – Rachel Gross


All the Time in the World
 is a story of what retreating to the Canadian northwoods tells us about nature and ourselves. Filmmaker Suzanne Crocker and her family decided to take time away from work and school and move to the Yukon wilderness for nine months over the winter. The family of eight—two parents, three kids, two cats, and one dog—live together in a one-room cabin with no heat or electricity.

Crocker frames this story as her family’s reprieve. Nine months in the bush was about finally finding the time to really be with her family. In the beauty of crackling fires and ice floes on the river, we begin to see how nature helped the family come together. The film does not pretend to offer prescriptions for any of us. Instead, it asks questions that get at the heart of so many “returns to nature”: how do we connect with people? How do we make home? How should we be living our lives right now? And why do we have to go away to find the answers to those questions?

The Great Invisible – Eric Nost


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest in US history, and possibly the worst environmental disaster in US history as well. It was certainly the most costly, as BP and the federal government near a $20 billion settlement on litigation following the spill.

The Great Invisible says nary a word about the spill’s environmental impacts. Instead, director Margaret Brown explores the variety of meanings made of the spill—from rig workers struggling to make sense of the safety failures leading to the blowout and why it was they that survived, to members of shrimping communities wrestling with an unwieldy compensation process.

The film’s title insinuates that these meanings remain hidden under the surface of public discussion, just like much of the oil. A defining characteristic of landscape research is learning how to read themThe Great Invisible asks us to reconsider that method: how do we see the unseen landscape? How can we read the forces and processes coming together to forge the material beneath our feet, at the bottom of the ocean, or in the depth of our psyches?

The Babushkas of Chernobyl – Nathan Jandl


The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 contaminated an entire region with radioactive dust and debris, causing 31 immediate deaths as well as an untold number of cancer-related fatalities among area residents. The disaster also necessitated a massive, forced evacuation, layering trauma on trauma by removing people from their homes and forbidding their return. The Babushkas of Chernobyl, directed by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart, documents the tiny communities—mostly made up of elderly women—that have returned, illegally, to inhabit the infamous “Exclusion Zone” around the disaster site. The women are remarkable: ancient, bent, gap-toothed figures clad always in boots and shawls, yet possessed of irrepressible independence and vigor. They garden, forage, and fish in a highly toxic landscape, insisting on the crucial value of remaining rooted in a place that matters to them. The Babushkas of Chernobyl makes no attempt to gloss over the tragedy and danger of the Chernobyl disaster and its fallout, nor does it provide us with a candy-coated view of these women. They are, it is clear, part of a rapidly disappearing population in a truly precarious landscape. Yet in the resilience of the babushkas (who note that the people who remain evacuated often die more quickly than those who return), the film shows us how health and happiness can persist despite the ominous clicks of a Geiger counter.

Featured image: Audience members congregate at one of the many events for Tales From Planet Earth. Photograph by Gregg Mitman.

Rachel Gross is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation, “From Buckskin to Gore-Tex: Consumption as a Path to Mastery in Twentieth-Century American Wilderness Recreation,” explores the cultural, intellectual, and environmental history of the outdoor gear industry. WebsiteContact.

Nathan Jandl is a Ph.D. candidate in English at UW-Madison and currently serves as Managing Editor for Edge Effects. He recently completed a dissertation entitled “Counter-Love: The Social Dimensions of Environmental Attachment in Twentieth-Century American Literature.” He also writes narrative nonfiction and takes photographs, both of which can be accessed on his website. Contact.

Eric Nost is a Ph.D. student in Geography at UW-Madison. His research describes the technologies environmental regulators, non-profit conservationists, and private sector entrepreneurs produce and utilize to confront complex, dynamic socio-environmental problems. He is currently looking at efforts to restore coastal marshes following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. ContactTwitter.

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