Short docs transport the mind

Passive House Revolution
Faith Morgan and Eugene “Pat” Murphy, directors
Community Solutions
45 minutes

Catching the Westbound Train
Prairie Coast Films
26 minutes

Miklat
Rita Leistner, director
14 minutes

A picture into an idea, a time and a place. That’s what “Short Documentaries 2” offers at the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival 2014.

Passive House Revolution is an unabashed infomercial for building houses that are so well insulated and airtight they reduce heating costs by 80%. Talking heads with PhDs and impressive titles sound the alarm on C02 emissions, global warming, and energy depletion. Requiring only small alterations in construction methods, Passive House is touted as a simple antidote to the looming crisis. The film is stronger when it leaves behind the contentious climate data and focuses on the enthusiasm of builders and residents who extol the energy savings, uniform temperature, lack of drafts, and constant exchange of fresh air in their newly constructed or retrofitted Passive Houses.

In the talkback led by NKMB associate pastor Eric Friesen following this film, the mostly older viewers responded with cautious optimism to the film’s message of reducing consumption (and questioning our sprawling use of space) while remaining wise to realities like local building codes that render some implementation steps impossible.

Catching the Westbound Train introduces the viewer to “the jungles” of Vancouver and the men who lived there. After the stock market crash of 1929, men began to travel west in hopes the resource industry would provide much needed jobs. In the likely event of failure to find employment, Vancouver was the only Canadian city where “you would starve to death before you froze to death.” Entirely in black and white, historians’ explanations and commentary are cut with archive film and still photography of the men and the city. In those days of the Depression, “everyone knew someone who was unemployed,” so the general populace tended toward compassion toward the men. But as the situation worsened, fear of Communism led the government to tear down the camps and disperse the men to remote “relief camps” where they did menial, make-work tasks.

Who cares about this time so long ago? Homelessness, unemployment and fear of the other have not gone away. Perhaps viewing these circumstances in another time and place will bring fresh perspective to situations we encounter today.

Miklat was the shortest film in a presentation that ran long over the scheduled time. Part of photojournalist Rita Leistner’s Portraitscapes of War series, Miklat (Hebrew for “shelter”) explores Israelis’ feelings toward the ubiquitous bomb shelters throughout the country. With a simple, melancholy soundtrack in the background, the film juxtaposes first person sentiments and stories about bomb shelters with images of the stark buildings or people in wide landscapes. Different voices speak of fear, of freedom of forgetting. “Love is more powerful than fear,” are the words that open the film, but this human take on a brutal architecture closes on a somber note.

As Canadians, it’s hard to imagine living with the constant threat of war and annihilation. The film prompts us to consider how we might feel about the other and ourselves in such a context.

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