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Photography from Antarctica: A Year on Ice by Anthony Powell and Marmato by Mark Grieco

Like many popular media venues, film festivals serve a dual purpose: to host critical material that forwards form and content, while entertaining to guarantee attendance. Marmato and Antarctica: A Year on Ice uniquely fulfill each of these requirements, and I was able to catch both films that espouse environmental themes at the 38th Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF).

CIFF 38, which wrapped up Sunday, boasted a number of award-winning flicks and saw a record 97,804 attendees. The Festival historically touts its fair share of social documentaries (in fact, it’s well known for the genre), and this year it was no different: Filmmakers Mark Grieco (Marmato) and Anthony Powell (Antarctica) starred in CIFF’s environmental sidebar “It’s Easy Being Green.”

According to Patrick Shepherd, Associate Director of CIFF, the sidebar was launched with financial support from Great Lakes Brewing Company in 2008. “Films in this section prove to be among the most meaningful and popular Festival selections every year. Sustainability and care for our planet are important values for the Cleveland International Film Festival,” he explains. Marmato exemplifies Shepherd’s description as a comprehensive documentary set in a Colombian town known for its unique arrangement atop a literal mountain of gold.

Marmato (Calle Films)

Director Mark Grieco with Dumar, a gold miner from Marmato, Colombia

Director Mark Grieco with Dumar, a gold miner from Marmato, Colombia

Director Mark Grieco’s natural interest in storytelling propels Marmato forward. “My focus is on good characters and strong stories, and to tell them in a way that is really focused on the cinematic experience.” He clarified the “cinematic experience” as aspects of a film that can bridge the gap between audiences interested in fiction versus those accustomed to the more traditional documentary. Marmato‘s sweeping photography and integral sound design, for instance, assist in conveying the film’s complicated thematic material.

Marmato is kicked off by Grieco’s serendipitous arrival in Marmato, Colombia, the same week as Medoro Resources, a Canadian mining company that—over the course of the movie—buys up most of the region’s lucrative gold mines. What seems to be a typical tale of foreign exploitation, however, manifests as a thorough survey of all the moving pieces in a corporate takeover:

After spending [five and one-half] years there, and seeing how complex foreign direct investment is, I realized that what is really needed is a new kind of dialogue that expresses the complexity of the situation: the environmental impact of mining, how progress is defined and answering the question, ‘Who benefits?’

Though this seems like a tall order, Grieco finds success “by grabbing people by the heart, then by the mind.”

Grieco came to CIFF riding off his success at the Cartagena Film Festival in Colombia, where Marmato won three awards, Best Film being one of them. “Though coming back to America was a really different experience with a different audience,” he reflects, “I had an incredible time screening the film in Cleveland and found the conversations with and reactions by the audiences to be really rewarding. They we’re very engaged and interested in what was happening now and how they may be able to get involved.”

View the screening schedule for Marmato here.

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Antzworks)

Director of Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Anthony Powell

Aesthetically gorgeous with a topic that is undeniably irresistible, Antarctica: A Year on Ice powerfully tells the stories of those who work in the most remote research stations in the world. From a quaint, Skype-held wedding to petty arguments about crowded living quarters, Antarctica‘s fixations run the gamut.

To what extent has the film raised environmental awareness? Director Anthony Powell responds:

When I made the film, I specifically did not make it an in-your-face environmental advocacy film, which would put off a lot of people. There are a few nods to the environmental issues in the film, but they are there more as a way to get people to start talking, to think about what they have seen, and perhaps to go and learn more. From what I have seen from audience reactions so far, that is exactly what is happening, so I am very happy with the results.

Antarctica is postured between the highest-quality reality television show imaginable and a vivid ecosystem exploration à la National Geographic—and what results is an enveloping 91 minutes that will leave you brimming with questions for Antarctic citizens, like CIFF guest Casey O’Brien. “The scenery was fantastic, and that’s what a lot of people would say,” O’Brien laughed after the film’s CIFF screening. “I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life from my relatively short time in Antarctica.”

Friendship is a prevalent theme throughout the movie, perhaps best embodied by the interactions between dominant nations stationed on Antarctica, all of whom set aside political and social pressures for the higher goal of scientific research. Stocked with breath-taking photography, unique living situations and a healthy dose of humor, Powell’s film easily garnered one of the best audience responses I observed at the Festival.

View the screening schedule for Antarctica: A Year on Ice here.


In addition to film programming, CIFF diverts over one ton of waste from landfills through recycling and composting items from their “Hospitality Headquarters,” thanks to efforts by Robert Stockham of Great Lakes Design Collaborative.

Additionally, the Festival heavily promotes the use of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which is housed in the lower level of the Festival’s venue, Tower Cities. Last year, over 30 percent of CIFF attendees rode an RTA train or bus to the Festival.


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