Planet in Focus Film Festival

5 films to watch at the 2013 Planet in Focus Film Festival

The 14th annual Planet in Focus Film Festival kicks off Thursday November 21st in Toronto, and what looks to be a fantastic lineup of program should be a welcome hoist up from the dismal abyss of hopelessness Fordmania has inflicted upon the city of late. The non-profit fest aims to raise awareness about issues from politics to environmental issues through film. Screenings, award ceremonies, and various events will take place all weekend at the TIFF Lightbox and the AGO Jackman Hall. From nuclear fall out to mischievous crows, here are five standout picks from the fest.

In what looks like it could have been made by master of depression BĂŠla Tarr, director Sebastian Mez takes us to south Ural region in Russia aka "the middle of nowhere," and allows us to meet some of the residents of one of the most radioactive places on earth. The region was secretly victimized by accidents at Mayak, the first nuclear facility for the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union. It's still in operation. AGO Jackman Hall, Friday, November 22 3:45pm.

Gringo Trails
Director Pegi Vail asks: are tourists destroying the planet, or saving it? It looks like he found a mixture of both while searching the Amazon jungles, Thai beaches, and (why not) Timbuktu. Backpackers are given a chance to tell stories of ruined secret beaches and sleep overs in the desert in front of a lush and colorful background. AGO Jackman Hall, Saturday, November 23, 9:15pm.

Burning Ice
David Buckland had a unique idea to get regular people to care about climate change - sail to Greenland with musicians Laurie Anderson, Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Robyn Hitchcock, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Shlomo, KT Tunstall and Martha Wainwright; British comedian Marcus Brigstocke; artists David Buckland, Sophie Calle and Chris Wainwright; and architect Sunand Prasad (plus a host of scientists). Will the power of art and an impressive soundtrack help spread his apocalyptic warning? Tiff Bell Lightbox, Saturday November 23, 10am.

The Ghosts in Our Machine
Director Liz Marshall's documentary hopes to change the way humans perceive animals the way Food Inc helped change attitudes toward food. The film follows photographer / activist Jo-Anne McArthur, who has been photographing animals for ten years. Her investigation into the changing face of animal rights brings you up close and personal (in high def) with animals used for food and testing. Marshall has previously made films which focused on human rights and environmental issues and states she followed McArthur because "her powerful photographs invite us to consider non-human animals as individuals." TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sunday November 24, 9:10am.

Tokyo Waka
More tender looking than much of the fest's activism leaning programming, this poetic documentary is a portrait of hidden lives in Tokyo rather than an attempt at a dire warning or lesson. Amid stunning cinematography John Haptas and Kristine Samuelsons's Tokyo Waka: a City Poem studies the city's architecture and human-made nature from an emotional perspective, investigating minor crow attacks and speaking with a tofu seller, a homeless woman, and a Buddhist priest. AGO Jackman Hall, Sunday November 24, 2:30pm.

Planet in Focus Film Fest runs from November 21 - 24 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the AGO Jackman Hall. The full schedule is here. Buy tickets and passes here.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur (The Ghosts in Our Machine)

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