10 feature-length films focused on environmental issues in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia7 min read
As part of Lossi 36‘s special focus on climate and the environment in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best feature-length films concentrating on environmental issues in the region. From fictional narratives involving magical realism to hard-hitting documentaries, this list has it all.
Adapted from the novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, this Polish thriller tackles the welfare of animals in a society staunchly devoted to hunting. The film follows the aging Janina Duszejko, an animal lover who lives in a rural Polish village, located near the Czech border, with her two dogs. After the two dogs go missing, strange deaths begin occurring in the village, all involving local hunters. Though Janina tries to convince the police that these murders are an act of vengeance by the hunted animals themselves, no one listens, and the deaths continue.
In Poland, the film led to some controversy, with some accusing Agnieszka Holland of promoting eco-terrorism. The film won the Silver Bear at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and was Poland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.
This documentary follows a motorcycle club composed of Bosnian War veterans in small mountain village. Throughout the film, the members of the gang work together to protect a threatened herd of wild horses they had first met on the frontlines. Based in a rural village and set in a wide, untouched landscape, the club deals with the harsh environment, poachers, and urbanization, all of which continually threaten the herd. Though the example of their work the club helps the struggling town, and themselves, to heal from the scars of war. The docuemtnary powerfully exemplifies the power of animals in healing and the importance of safeguarding the local fauna.
Shawn Convey’s work was recognised at several international film festival and was awarded as the best film at the Chicago International Film Festival
If there is one thing Georgian billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is known for, it’s his love of trees. Since 2016, hundreds of trees in Georgia have been uprooted and taken to a vast dendrological park located near Ivanishvili’s coastal estate. In Taming the Garden, documentary filmmaker Salomé Jashi examines this phenomenon, reflecting on the scars it leaves both environmentally and emotionally.
Taming the Garden originally premiered in 2021 at the Sundance film festival, and it has since seen great acclaim throughout the European festival circuit. In Georgia, however, the film received a much quieter release. In 2022, the Georgian Film Academy cancelled screenings of the documentary, claiming the film was “a work that causes controversy and divides society for political reasons.” You can read a full review by Lossi 36 here.
This Serbian documentary follows the Marković family as they struggle to retain their Vlach traditions amidst the growing environmental and labour exploitations from the modern mining industry. In the eastern Serbian town of Majdanpek, magic still exists, and the film thrives in exploring the obscure folk traditions that survive, from turning pear leaves into flutes to hunting dragons in the woods. Interspersed between these explorations into Vlach traditions are short clips of machinery winding its way through quarries and mines located only a few hundred metres from the city centre. They are omens of the damage that the copper mining industry has wrought on the city and its surrounding environment. As the machinery drills and grinds the ore, it simultaneously chips away at the life of Majdanpek’s citizens, the majority of whom are employed at the mines.
You can read a full review by Lossi 36 here.
Filmed over the course of four years, this documentary follows Ivanna, 26-year-old mother of five living in the Arctic tundra. Belonging to the indigenous Nenets people, she lives a traditional nomadic life, driving her herd of reindeer over the tundra like her ancestors before her. Due to climate change, however, many of her reindeer are dying, forcing her to consider moving to the Siberian city of Norilsk where her husband has been working as an oil worker.
Life of Ivanna is a strong examination of life on the periphery, as well as how rising temperatures will continue to change life in the Arctic, threatening traditional ways of life. The film won Best Documentary at the 2021 Zurich Film Festival.
This North Macedonian documentary chronicles the life of Hatidže Muratova, a female beekeeper living in a remote mountain village. Honeyland explores a number of environmental topics, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and the exploitation of natural resources, with Hatidže representing humanity’s balance with the ecosystem as opposed to the consumerism and resource depletion illustrated by her new neighbours.
The film received critical acclaim both on and off the international festival circuit, and was the first film nominated for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards.
Based on the classic novella The Lucky Mill by Ioan Slavici, this slow-burn Romanian thriller explores what happens when a family becomes caught between the police and the logging mafia. Due to its tackling of much-discussed topics in Romanian politics and civil society — illegal logging and deforestation has been increasing in Romania, threatening the country’s unique virgin forests while corruption has long been a stumbling block — the film strongly resonated with the Romanian film festival circuit, though it is less well-known outside the region.
Dedicated to the beauty of Estonian nature, this documentary feature immerses the audience into the heart of Estonia’s wilderness and the flora and fauna that reside there. No people are featured; instead, wildlife rules the screen with beauty and violence. Filming took place over the course of three years in order to capture the breadth of wildlife, including rare shots of Estonia’s national animal, the grey wolf.
The Wind Sculpted Land won Best Cinematography at the 2019 Estonian Film and TV Awards and Best TWEFF Feature Film at the 2019 Tulum World Environment Film Festival.
This feature documentary by Katerina Suvorova tells four narratives about those who chose to stay and live in the deserted, arid landscape that was once the Aral Sea. Based around possibly the worst ecological disaster of the twentieth century, one which saw an entire ecosystem collapse, Sea Tomorrow looks at what the impact has been on those who were left behind. It is a film about adaption and hope, one with a message that is ever more important as climate change continues to wreak havoc on the world.
Having made an impact on the international film festival circuit, the film gathered more attention after it became the first Kazakh documentary to premiere on Netflix.
Last but not least on this list is Brutal Heat, a recent Czech debut in which a celestial incident — namely a fragment of the sun now orbiting the earth causing rising temperatures in a thinly veiled metaphor for climate change — serves as the background for an examination of Gen Z and the sociopolitical context in which they are operating. It is a mix of sci-fi and social drama digs into what it means to grow up in a world that is facing one crisis after the next, the most crucial perhaps the death of the very planet we are all living on.