Beasts and Saints: environmental drama at Sundance 2012

Environmentally-themed drama generally takes one of two directions: the apocalyptic horror (think THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) or the docu-drama (i.e. ERIN BROCKOVICH). In other words, if environmental issues are going to play a role in a fictional film, they’ve got to play a big, central role. Two films in competition this year at the Sundance Film Festival play with that dramatic tradition, and incorporate “the environment” into the story in either genre-bending, or even mind-bending, ways.

Musa Syeed’s VALLEY OF SAINTS is, on the surface, the more conventional of the two films: main character Gulzar rediscovers his homeland when his work (and budding relationship) with an environmental scientist reveals toxic pollution in Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Syeed’s presentation of this fictional story takes into account the real history and political instability of the region to create something not quite pure drama, but also not documentary. The film premieres on January 23rd in Park City; if you can’t wait until then, check out its Facebook page and official site (which is pretty barren right now).

Benh Zeitlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD pulls environmental themes into a work of fantasy. Set in both the Mississippi Delta and “the edge of the world” (and one could argue they’re one and the same), the film focuses on six-year-old Hushpuppy and her father Wink. When Wink falls ill, nature responds: “temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs.” Hushpuppy must face these challenges alone as she goes in search of her mother. Not only is Zeitlin’s story unique, but so is his approach to production: the cast, for instance, is made up completely of non-actors. BEASTS’ Sundance debut is on January 20th; you can find out more about the film and the “independent film making army” behind it.

Getting ready to head to Park City? Let us know if you plan to include either of these films in your trip.


Image credit: Still from VALLEY OF SAINTS