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Geographies of Solitude

A lone and devoted scientist studies and records the fauna and the flora of a remote Canadian Island for five decades - reflective documentary shows at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE RED SEA

Sable Island is located on the Northwest Atlantic, 100 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. This sandy island is inhabited by horses, seals, birds, beetles, worms and one woman. Having first arrived in 1971, Zoe Lucas has dedicated almost her entire life to the ecosystem and the wildlife that populate the tiny sanctuary. She gingerly catalogues the animal numbers and, far more crucially, records the reason of their death. She is guided by the belief that such data will help to promote environmental justice and protect the unique biome. All entirely on her own. Sometimes one swallow does make a summer.

In one of the film’s first scenes, our protagonist stirs a container full of plastic parts: bottles, cups, buttons, lids, etc. There are countless carrier bags and balloons. A sign saying “to be cleaned” sits underneath a dusty skull. Zoe is no eccentric collector. The plastic and the animals parts are duly cleaned and recorded for scientific reasons. “More than 72% of dead birds had their stomachs filled with plastic”, and “we once identified a balloon that traveled 2,000 miles”, she reveals. She hopes that by tracing the origin of at least some of the items (as with the balloon), she will raise awareness of the damage that consumerism is causing. About 90% of the marine litter originates from the US, but she has also identified non-biodegradable objects from as far as Haiti and even South Africa.

Geographies of solitude is entirely shot on 16mm, the film gauge lending a vintage texture to the the desolate landscape. The wear and tear is consistent with old film reels. Often images are juxtaposed. The director and her subject experiment with media native to the island. Horse hair and bones are exposed to moonlight and developed with seaweed. Film is buried in horse dung. The sound of beetles footsteps and snail “music” add the finishing touch to the exquisite montage. These inventive antics provide the film with a touch of video art.

Footage from the 1970n are mixed seamlessly with more recents images. The result is a sense of timelessness. It is never entirely clear when the footage was recorded. At one point, Zoe says that she has been on the island for 40 years, so that’s presumably about 10 years before the film was finished. Geographies os Solitude is a labour of love, unhurriedly and gingerly made, much like Zoe’s life on Sable Island.

Despite its title, this is not a movie about solitude. A very stoical Zoe is accepting of the cycle of life, constantly reminding us that death enables the food cycle. She has a large collection of horse skulls, yet there is nothing macabre about that. “There is so much life in here”, she exclaims while lifting the body of a dead horse in order to reveal a large clew of earthworms. She tells us that the horse’s death enables grass to grow, which in turn will be ingested by another horse and its foal, thereby enabling the perpetuation of the ecosystem. Zoe is never alone. She is an integral part of a complex and multilayered habitat.

Geographies of Solitude shows at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival. It is part of the New Vision strand. It is one of the 35 films directed by women to show at the event. A worthwhile meditative experience.


By Victor Fraga - 06-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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