Özge Calafato December 7 2017

Tales of Extinction


More than 99 percent of over five billion species that ever lived on Earth are estimated to be extinct but extinctions have only been recorded recently. Scientists are troubled by the high rate of extinctions. So should everyone. Tales of Extinction brings together five visually gorgeous films that deal with shifting ecologies, disappearance of biodiversity, endangered species, habitat degradation and re-animation of forms of life. It’s about time we listen to scornful parrots that have a piece of advice for the relentless human activity.

Deforest (Grayson Cooke, 2015, Australia, Experimental, 10 min)

Bleach by Grayson Cooke

Deforest is an art/science project that combines environmental critique with material enquiry. In this project, sulphuric acid – a highly corrosive acid that burns to the touch – is used to dissolve photographs of old growth rainforest from subtropical Queensland.

Deforestation is one of the key planks of anthropogenic climate change. It is responsible for around 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and also causes erosion and biodiversity loss. Our forests are vital carbon sinks, but they are also repositories of extra-human time, a kind of “memory of the earth” that is erased daily to serve the needs of the present. Within the context of the Anthropocene, deforestation is an urgent touchstone for the threshold between economic and environmental imperatives in both developed and developing nations.

This project focuses on these issues in a unique way. Deforest seeks to find a media analogue for the depletion of the world’s forests, using photographic media and a corrosive acid to “materialize” deforestation along different channels than the documentary record. The ruin of the image, the experience of its loss, and its relation to the world at large lies at the core of this project.

Time-lapse photography is used to record the complex interaction between the acid and the slide film. The image is accompanied by music by Matthew Bourne and a soundtrack composed primarily of environmental recordings in the Bunya Mountains, a temperate rainforest in South-East Queensland and the site of the photographs used in this project.

Archives of Extinction (Alyse Takayesu, 2016, USA, Documentary, 12 min)

Archives of Extinction by Alyse Takayesu

Throughout the 19th century scientists transformed living birds into dried, stuffed, and otherwise preserved scientific specimens. Today scientists seek to transform these lifeless specimens into living birds through the emerging science of de-extinction. Exploring these transformations, Archives of Extinction evokes questions about de-animating and re-animating forms of life and about the human role in disassembling past and reassembling future ecologies.

Unknown Fields: Madagascar – A Treasured Island (Toby Smith, 2013, United Kingdom, Documentary, 5 min)

In times past an anarchist community of pirates called Madagascar home. It was an island beyond the law and off the map, a place of rogues, booty and bounties. These were outlaws moored on a marooned ecosystem. Set adrift 88 million years ago, the island is a castaway in the Indian Ocean, inhabited by a band of ecological stowaways. In this splendid isolation it has evolved into an unparalleled wonderland of the weird and unique, diverse and unbelievable.

A political coup in 2009 left the country adrift once more – isolated from the international community, deprived of foreign aid and conservation funding. One of the planet’s most precious ecological treasures is home to one of its poorest nations and it raises difficult and complex questions about the relationship between necessity and luxury. Amidst political uncertainty, the island’s fragile and unique ecology is being smuggled out illegally, boat by boat, gem by gem.

Unknown Fields: Madagascar – A Treasured Island by Toby Smith

Dusk Chorus (David Monacchi, 2016, Italy, Documentary, 62 min) - in festival circuit

Follow the eco-acoustic composer David Monacchi on his quest to record pure continuous 24-hour 3D soundscapes in the area with the world’s highest biodiversity in Ecuador’s remote primary forests. A unique listening experience of fragments of the disappearing sonic heritage of millions of years of evolution.

Eco-acoustic composer and researcher David Monacchi records sound for "Dusk Chorus"

The Great Silence (Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, 2016, Puerto Rico, Experimental, 16 min)

Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope, is located in Esperanza, Puerto Rico, which is also home to a critically endangered species of parrots. The telescope functions as an ear that is capable of capturing signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The witty messages from the parrots remain unnoticed.

The Great Silence by Allora & Calzadilla (in collaboration with Ted Chiang) - 3-channel Installation at Sharjah Biennial

About the author

Özge Calafato has worked for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) as Programming Manager and served as a selection committee member for the SANAD Development and Post-Production Fund. She has also worked as a programmer and consultant for a number film festivals and institutions including Documentarist, DOK Leipzig, Doha Film Institute, DokuFest, Oslo Arab Film Days, The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Punto de Vista, Imagine Science Film Festival, Cinema Akil and Birds Eye View. She is a co-founder and project director of the UAE National Film Library and Archive and a member of the publications committee for the online literary magazine altZine.net and e-book publisher altKitap.net. She currently works as the Project Manager for the Akkasah: Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi.