Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Becoming Animal - Edinburgh International Film Festival


Becoming Animal is a beautiful meditation on the human relationship with the natural world and how that relationship is mediated by language and technology.

Filmed mostly in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, the film focuses on elements of the natural world, allowing the viewer to become absorbed in the flow of a river and waterfall, the breeze through the trees, the calls of an elk at night.

A collaboration between filmmakers Peter Mettler and Emma Davie and writer and philosopher David Abram, this is a very thought provoking film. How did the natural world impact on the first spoken and indeed written languages? How does language impact on our understanding of time and is time itself a concept that exists outwith language? How does technology help and hinder our relationship with the other creatures we share the planet with? Specifically how does film making affect that relationship?

The film is beautifully paced, slow and meditative as befits the subject matter and although Abram does sometimes veer towards the almost pretentious his words really do prompt you to think about how we perceive and understand nature.

Becoming Animal is screening as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1815, Thursday 21 June at Filmhouse and 1310 Saturday June 23 at Vue Omni.

To read my reviews of earlier films in this year's film festival please follow the links below:

Science Fair - documentary about brilliant young scientists attending the International Science and Engineering Fair 

Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film. 

Science Fair - Film Review (Edinburgh International Film Festival)

We've just got back from a wonderful holiday in Shetland and I will in due course blog about the highlights of that but in the meantime it's Edinburgh International Film Festival and once again I have a press pass and films to review.

First up was today's press screening of  Science Fair, a documentary that follows brilliant young high school scientists across the world as they prepare their research projects for the International Science and Engineering Fair. There is a real mix of young people taking part. One US school had nine teams get through the regional and national competition to finally have seven winners at the fair, lead by their charismatic (and frankly sometimes scary) teacher Dr Serena McCalla. Kashfia Rahman meanwhile, a young Muslim attending a sports oriented school in the USA, has no research labs to work in and no science teacher prepared to oversee her work so she ends up being mentored by the school sports coach and even after she wins a prize at the fair her school does nothing to acknowledge her achievements. Robbie a US student failing in his maths class takes a project based on number theory to the fair and on the back of that is offered a paid internship to work on driverless cars. Anjali Chadha, a student in a strongly science oriented school in the US, researches new ways to test for and remove arsenic from drinking water while Myella and Gabriel two students from Brazil are working on the Zika virus - a project that they are now continuing at University level.

My only disappointment was that there were no featured projects that specifically dealt with the scientific challenges posed by climate change or biodiversity loss. However the implication is still there, the scientific challenges of our time will be met by brilliant people like those featured in this film.

Science Fair is screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival at The Vue Omni at 2040 Thursday 21 June and at 1300 on Saturday 23 June. You can find out more and book here

Monday, 4 June 2018

Waste by Tristram Stuart

 Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

This sobering insight into just how much food is wasted across the world is a must read for anyone who wants to do their bit to reduce food waste. The book is slightly out of date (2009) but many of the issues are still as urgent as when it was written.

It details how much food is wasted through the whole cycle from growing food through distributing it to retailers, the unsold food that is discarded by retailers and the food that is wasted by consumers. It also demonstrates how this waste puts pressure on rainforests and other valuable natural landscapes, and the impact on climate change. It is an interesting fact that the author has spent large periods of his life eating food that has been thrown away by supermarkets.

It's full of scandalous facts:

* if the amount of avoidable potato waste was halved in UK households it could potentially free up enough land to grow enough food to lift 1.2 million people out of hunger.

* supermarket standards in the West around shape and size force some farmers to lose up to a third of their harvest every year (though this is beginning to change with some supermarkets now offering 'strange shaped vegetables')

* some dolphin-friendly methods of fishing for tuna are actually responsible for killing large numbers of sharks and other sea creatures.

* in many countries including the UK, most offal (which includes nutritious and once valued items such as liver and kidneys) is thrown away

The book isn't all doom and gloom though, it explores solutions such as fishing equipment that is designed to avoid bycatch, going back to feeding pigs on swill, restaurants that offer incentives to customers to finish all their food, food sharing initiatives and ways on which supermarkets can fine tune their stocking rate.

In addition the author explores some of the evolutionary drivers behind our obsession with agricultural and other forms of surplus. It offers case studies of companies that are very efficient at reducing food waste, including one that sends its waste to a factory that makes high quality feedstock that the company then buys back for its own livestock. The book also explores differing attitudes to food waste across the world, focussing on Japan as being traditionally very efficient in avoiding waste.

You won't look at your food again after reading this book!

Waste by Tristram Stuart, published by Penguin (2009) andprinted on 100% recycled paper madefrom post consumer waste.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Summer Insects on Arthur's Seat

Today I went to an excellent training session lead by Buglife about Lacewings and their allies. It was full of interesting facts such as that some lacewings will cover themselves in dead aphids and other things so that they can disguise their smell from ants and creep into ant nests to steal the aphids that ants like to harvest for the sweet honeydew that they produce.

At lunchtime I went for a walk round Holyrood Park which was at that time atmospherically misty

I found a nice rock to sit on for lunch and found myself surrounded by butterflies and moths, including this small copper butterfly

this small heath butterfly

and this cinnabar moth

which was most exciting as I've never seen the adult moth before though we regularly see ragwort plants covered in the caterpillars (photo from last August)

(see also this post).

In the afternoon we did an informal insect survey of part of Arthur's Seat

which brought in various beetles, sawflies, parasitic wasps, click beetles, pill woodlice and more moths including this carpet moth (possibly a silver ground carpet?) .

We even found some lacewings! One of which may have been the brown bordered lacewing that we were specifically searching for, which is very rare, the only recent record of it in Scotland was two years ago here on Arthur's Seat. The lacewing in question will need to be studied more closely to identify it to species level.

 It was also lovely to see more than 20 swifts flying about.

It was an excellent day's training and we even managed to avoid most of the rainstorm that followed on from the hot weather.