"The oasis, an integral feature of Emirati geography and history, mainly conjures up hope. The oasis, a representation of fertility in the desert, flowing with precious waters, invokes sustainability.
"Yet, the oasis is also a human construction that has revealed environmental degradation, human vulnerability, and disease. When the oasis was established in the UAE, these human made pools of water also brought malaria. The need for water also made the oasis the center of power, greed, and wars. This paradox entrances us as eras of Climate Change and COVID-19 stare at us with similar dynamics, such as the devastating mining of lithium for greener electric cars." Thus reads the introduction to this year's Al Sidr Environmental Film Festival which makes a return, with a full in-person event, to Manarat Al Saadiyat from 24th to the 27th of February 2022.
Al Sidr is co-organized by Zayed University and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, and backed by ADNOC as well as the British Council in the United Arab Emirates, with a full programme offered all completely free to the public. The festival owes its name to the Sidr Tree, the "Sidrat al-Muntaha" a sacred tree in Islam, marking the utmost boundary in the seventh heaven, which no one can pass apart from the Messenger of Allah.
Among the films to be screened during this edition there will be a few MIME favourites, such as Mounia Akl's man against bureaucratic goliath drama Costa Brava, Lebanon, which although when she started writing it seemed set in a dystopian future, it now has become a sad but all too true reality for the Lebanese people. Akl's beautiful oeuvre aptly and poetically shows us how quickly a perfect oasis can be transformed into a landfill of garbage, at the will of the political machine.
We spoke to Akl in Venice, when the film world premiered in September 2021.
Also in the programme is I am Greta, a 2020 internationally co-produced documentary by Fredrik Heining and Cecilia Nessen focusing on the pint-sized environmentalist who turned 19 last month, as well as the 1982 masterpiece Koyaanaqatsi (from a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance") directed by Godfrey Reggio, one of the first works of its kind revealing how humanity has grown apart from nature. With a haunting score by American composer Philip Glass, the film did well at the box office and influenced a slew of films in the same genre, including Human by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
Invisible Demons (2021), a film which premiered in Cannes by Indian helmer Rahul Jain will also be screened, as will Honey, Rain and Dust (2017), directed by Emirati poet, artist and filmmaker Nujoom Al Ghanem.
Along with the films, there will be talks and events including an academic roundtable “Thinking with the Atmospheric, Building Geosocial Future”, bringing together a group of scientists, political scientists, and artists led by Dr. Alexandra Cotofana, Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Science at Zayed University.
For the full programme and to find out more, check out the festival website.