Words by John Kite
Given that I am both a sustainable development student and self-professed film fanatic, the St. Andrews Green Film Festival is my cup of (sustainably-sourced) tea. So, while my peers headed out to the Union for a wild Friday night, I made my way to the Byre Theatre to watch the environmental documentary ‘Jozi Gold’. I had no expectations, but surely it had to be better than 601…
After an introduction by the student-led team, the documentary told the story of Johannesburg, which was fuelled by gold mining profits to become Africa’s largest city. After years of ruthless colonial extractivism, the mines are running dry and lay increasingly abandoned, filling with water and leaking uranium and other toxic heavy metals into local water systems. Worse, a century of exploitation has left mountains of bleached toxic mine waste, from which uranium-rich dust blows across the city and exposes locals to cancer, asthma, and birth defects.
The documentary’s protagonist, local activist Mariette Liefferinck, couldn’t look more out of place in her Prada sunglasses and high heels, grossly impractical for her ‘toxic tour’. But behind the sunglasses is a dogged determination for justice and an unwavering commitment to the local people, countless of which unknowingly reside in areas more radioactive than Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. After overcoming struggles in her personal life including a failed marriage and expulsion from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, she has found her purpose in confronting gold mining company CEO’s and government officials, even laying charges for environmental non-compliance.
The evening’s real value was in the audience discussion, a welcome far cry from the awkward silence of lecture halls (or worse, Teams). From an impassioned speech about Italy’s Eco Mafia to comparisons with the tragic 1966 Aberfan disaster, in which 116 schoolchildren were killed by a collapsed mountain of coal waste, everyone was engaged and shared comparisons and reflections.
I could have stayed at home and watched a documentary (does ‘The Apprentice’ count?), but the true value of the evening came from reflection and discussion. It’s important to support initiatives like the St. Andrews Green Film Festival, organised by a small team from Transition St. Andrews, not just to appreciate their stellar efforts, but because local discussion and action plays a vital role in driving global change. We may not have the time and dedication of Mariette Liefferinck but in our own way we can affect change.
I urge you to support St Andrews Green Film Festival 2023, Transition St Andrews, and the Byre Theatre.