German director Fatih Akin
Two high-profile documentaries exposing the impact of reckless waste dumping on local communities and public health brought a dose of consciousness-raising to the Cannes glamour fest Tuesday.
"Polluting Paradise", a five-year labour of love by Turkish-German director and Cannes favourite Fatih Akin, and "Trashed", produced by British actor Jeremy Irons, question consumer society's approach to rubbish in distinct ways.
Akin, who lives in Hamburg, stumbled upon the scandal of a garbage landfill built just above his ancestral village in Turkey while filming "The Edge of Heaven", for which he snagged the Cannes screenplay prize in 2007.
Despite local protests against the dump in the idyllic tea-growing and fishing community in northeastern Turkey, it is hastily built and fails to comply with the most basic engineering and hygienic standards.
Village women are seen with their headscarves wrapped around their faces to block out the stench of the rotten rubbish as the camera lingers over mountains of refuse scavenged by birds, stray dogs and flies.
Akin traces the saga of the community's attempts to get the site repaired, if not removed entirely, after waste begins to seep into the local groundwater and retaining walls collapse.
Residents confront corrupt and incompetent officials touring the site, who make hollow pledges to take up the problem with the regional government.
Akin, who served on the Cannes jury in 2005, told AFP the film project was originally intended as a "threat" to throw his sizeable clout in Turkey and Germany to bring about a change for the villagers.
But as it became clear that nothing was being done to help them, he followed through with the documentary.
"It's like in a street fight in a way. The fight is starting and it's not ending and you can't stop and go home in the middle of a fight," said Akin, whose dramas often focus on Turkish-Germans caught between two worlds.
"Anger is a gift, especially for cinema. It's an engine for power in a way."
Akin said it was possible to channel the massive media attention focused on Cannes toward smaller, socially relevant pictures with a message like his.
"What I like about this festival is that you have Brangelina coming here and getting all this attention but they're like the Trojan horse, inside of them there are these little very interesting films from all over the world," he said.
If "Polluting Paradise" is an intimate portrait of one community's struggle, "Trashed" by British director Candida Brady is a sweeping manifesto about the developed world's failure to find a viable answer to its waste problem.
Irons, the film's executive producer and affable on-screen narrator, hopscotches the globe to spotlight the poisonous effect that irresponsible waste management has on air, water, soil, wildlife and human health.
Trudging in wellies across filthy beaches in Lebanon, inspecting prison compost heaps in Yorkshire and touring a state-of-the-art recycling plant in San Francisco, the actor conveys disbelief at the scope of the problem and excitement about potential solutions, with a shot of rascally humour.
After over an hour surveying putrid landscapes and sullied seawater, the film looks at ways consumers can reduce their tonnes of annual waste by bringing their own bags and containers to shops and encouraging manufacturers to reduce and improve packaging.
"I had a desire to do something more useful than just endless entertainment films," said the Oscar-winning star of "Reversal of Fortune" and television's "The Borgias".
"All I'm really doing is what I can do to hopefully encourage a different way of living," he said. "We are all sinners but that doesn't mean we can't do something about it."
Irons told reporters that while such documentaries benefited from the Cannes limelight, the festival too needed a reality check now and then.
"I think it also gives a little bit more relevance to Cannes," he said.
"We watch Sacha Baron Cohen and things but actually there's an awful lot that can get better with the world. Why don't we spend a few moments of our dinner parties or drinks parties discussing them as well as whether Brad Pitt needs a haircut?"