Five hand picked nature films from the Lilith Archive, a platform for non-binary and female filmmakers

The Lilith Archive, a DIY film archive platforming women and non-binary filmmakers on the subject of nature, select five films to watch, learn from and share.

11 November 2021


Disheartened by “the overwhelmingly white and male voices dominating climate discourse” Zoe Rasbash – an action researcher at Pervasive Media Studio and climate justice editor at Shado magazine – and Lois Barton – a masters student at the Cabot Institute for the Environment (examining the role of visual arts in ecological activism) while working for Bristol Refugee Festival – decided to launch the Lilith Archive. For the pair, films concerned with nature have “become synonymous with a traditional documentary format (made by western, white men),” and in turn their DIY digital film archive platforms the brilliant diversity of global women and non-binary filmmakers on the subject.

Started a year ago – “to create the resource we wish we had” – films platformed by Lilith present an alternative to traditional nature films; films which tend to “present nature as something separate from the human, something ‘over there’ to be ogled at,” the pair describe. The result has the opposite effect to what nature films (documentary or fictional) should offer the viewer in connection to, or contributing “to the ongoing and destructive separation of humans from nature.”

Built with the belief that the films we watch “influence our relationship with the world around us,” and that film as a creative discipline offers an accessible environment, creating the archive has widened opportunities for learning. “As much as we are over the moon we can share these films with others, it really began as a way to educate ourselves and challenge the dominance of pervasive patriarchal and western narratives that populate mainstream media that we were consuming!”

By documenting the diversity of filmmakers, “the archive works to challenge the traditional and static ideas of both ‘nature film’ in both style and substance, and ‘nature’ itself.” And, as part of Zoe and Lois’ work to support efforts challenging “the inequality embedded in the film industry and Western climate movement by creating ways to access different knowledge around the world,” the pair have selected five films from the archive to begin your journey.

But before you dive into their picks, to further support Lilith Archive head over to its Instagram to follow what they do, “watch and share the brilliant films we post” and keep an eye out for upcoming screenings. Zoe and Lois are additionally looking for funding to develop its internal archive of over 400 films into an open-access directory.

Amanda Strong: Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) (2018)

Amanda Strong is a Michif Indigenous filmmaker based out of the unceded Coast Salish territory in Vancouver. She has a repertoire of stunning stop-motion films which address the effect of settler colonialism on our ecosystems (you can find them on our youtube playlist here).

Based on the poems of acclaimed Indigenous writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) follows the young, non-binary Biidaaban, and their 10,000 year old guardian and earth protector friend, Sabe. Each night they set out to reclaim the ancient Indigenous ceremony of collecting sap from the old-growth trees – which now can only be found on privatised property.

Often fictional films which address social issues falter in addressing their systemic causes – an individual villain, who can be defeated, acts as a scapegoat for exploitative systems and industries which desperately need dismantling. With the neighbourhood itself being the antagonist in this short, Strong illustrates how threats to Indigenous culture and our ecosystems are the result of systemic issues such as land occupation and privatisation – rather than of one “bad egg” individual.

Sebastián Calfugueo: Kowkülen (2020)

Based in Santiago, Chile, Sebastián Calfuqueo is a non-binary visual artist of Mapuche heritage. Their work transcends western binaries to explore themes of gender, sexuality and socio-environmental justice through a variety of mixed-media projects (see here).

In Kowkülen, a piece which suspends human-nature and gender binaries, director Calfuqueo seeks to redefine our relationship with nature using learnings from Indigenous Mapuche culture and epistemology. In Kowkülen, Calfuqueo uses performance art to critique the neoliberal social-ecological policies which have resulted in Chile’s water crisis. They use tenants of historical Indigenous cultures and queer ecology to underly the devastating implications that patriarchal and colonial powers have on Chile’s social, cultural and ecological spheres. 

Maya V-Ron, Myléne Cominotti, Marion Coudert and Sixtine Dano: Thermostat 6 (2018)

This dark yet comical fable centres around a leak in the ceiling, and one young woman's desperation to prevent it. Using the different generations of a family all co-habituating under one roof, the house acts as a metaphor for the world and the family members are all different – yet deeply recognisable – facets of modern western society. This short is a simple yet effective piece drawing direct parallels between action and outcome, all whilst successfully responding to the frustration and desperation of the youth activist movement today.

Created by students of the internationally known GOBELINS school of animation, directors Marion Coudert, Myléne Cominotti, Sixtine Dano and Maya Av-ron match expert aesthetics with rich storytelling to underlie the limitations of environmental activism existing within a capitalist framework. 

Sam Lane: Spell of the West (2018)

In this vibrant western inspired landscape, director Sam Lane takes influence from the likes of Adventure Time to set the scene for an allegorical short exploring the tensions between sustainable agriculture and ecologically devastating logging activity. Like Thermostat 6, Spell of the West resists the trope of heroising activists, instead drawing on the emotional experiences of land-defenders facing the impending pressures of ecological destruction. Shown through the lens of protagonist and cactus farmer Rose, Lane presents the emotional, physical, and gendered implications of environmental damage at the hands of the extractivist, industrial greed.

Sam Lane is an animator and director who created Spell of the West during her third of the experimental animation program at CalArts, based in LA. We had the pleasure of screening Spell of the West as part of our Animating Eco-feminist Futures event back in July, as part of a programme of exciting animated shorts from emerging women and non-binary animators.

Joburg Ballet: Breaking Ballet No.5 (2017)

The Modjadji, or the Rain Queen, is a hereditary queen of Balob edu, a people of the Limpopo Province of South Africa - believed to have mystical rainmaking powers. Every November the Modjadji presides over the annual rainmaking ceremony at her royal compound in the Khetlhalkone Village.

In response to the 2017 water crisis in the Western Cape, dancer Kitty Phetla of Joburg Ballet, choreographed and performed a rain dance inspired by the Modjadji to bring rain to the land and people.

“While we hope it will bring rain, this dance is also an important reminder of the value of water to life on earth, and the necessity to conserve it at all costs.” – Joburg Ballet

Response & Responsibility – Cop26

During the next two weeks, over 120 world leaders are meeting in Glasgow to agree on the actions needed to pull the earth back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. The most important conference of our lifetime, in response, we are exploring creative responses to the climate crisis throughout the duration of Cop26. 

Read the full series

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.

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