10 films to watch at ALT EFF 2022

First published on November 18, 2022


Do you have your popcorn and thinking caps ready? The All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALT EFF) 2022 begins today, on November 17, and will run till November 27. Sanctuary's Editorial Team watched and reviewed ten of the 55 films in the programme, of which 33 are exclusive India premieres. 

The films are categorised according to themes such as conservation, climate change, activism, the ecosphere, indigenous wisdom, urbanisation, food politics, capitalism and sustainable living. We love that the themes spill over, overlapping and complementing each other in a creative diversity of storytelling formats. Each film offers us the opportunity to spend time contemplating the lives of all living things – from plankton, to rare birds, insects and jellyfish, among many others! ALT EFF and its wonderful curation of films creates a rare space that centres the existence and voices of people who have long been rendered invisible by the hyper-capitalist model that has driven this planet into a state of crisis. 

Kunal Khanna, one of the founders of ALT EFF, is excited by the quality of films in this year’s catalogue – which he says is their best one yet! After working behind a screen for the past two years, he is thrilled to be bringing the festival to several places in India. Their decision to have a decentralised festival is an unconventional but exciting one that allows their films to reach more people and tap into more communities. The costs they saved by not having a festival in a single venue has been utilised into making the festival free for all and a ‘pay what you like’ model. 
Kunal is particularly pleased that this year, ALT EFF has 50 per cent Indian films in their showcase, as the idea behind organising this festival was to give Indian filmmakers, conservationists, environmentalists and storytellers a platform to tell their stories from this vast subcontinent. 

Naturalist, wildlife filmmaker and environmentalist Pradip Krishen was one of the distinguished jury members for this year’s edition of the festival and he said, “It is so special to be part of a Jury that ‘understands’ cinema deeply, in all its nuances.”

Jury member recommendation

Here are jury member and Sanctuary’s brother-in-arms, Dr. Anish Andheria's top picks for the audience, in this order: 

1. All that Breathes
2. The Plastic Bag Store
3. Total Disaster
4. The Golden Land
5. Thengapalli
6. Ek Tha Gaon
7. Nest 38
8. A Sacred Oasis at the Cusp of Change

To watch these and other films online, or in person if you are in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Bengaluru, Ooty or Delhi, visit the Alt Eff website. ALT EFF is on a mission to engage the public on the environment and social issues of our time, through an informed, creative and experiential discourse. 


Directed by Simon Coulibaly Gillard  |  Côte d'Ivoire  | 1 hour 30 minutes.

Teenage years ought to be about a carefree spirit, a loving family, and as one grows older, a childhood sweetheart. Aya, a young girl in Lahou, an island town in the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire, has all these but with a foreboding twist. 

The sea is coming, creeping up the shore, not even sparing the departed resting in the cemetery. The very sea, which was an ally, is now threatening their very existence. 

Without raising the alarm about climate change and its direct impacts on human lives, the Belgian film is a heartbreaking story of how the poorest are losing the most as the sea rises. Aya, her mother and baby brother, a small family unit, live by the sea, where plastic is as much a part of the landscape as beach sand. Food resources are strained further, jobs are few and far between, and their homes will simply be swallowed by the rising waters. Aya is far too content, far too in love with her home by the crashing waves, and simply does not want to leave, even as she can see the sea taking bites off the land. 

This feature film is a coming of age story in the age of the climate crisis, and a must watch for anyone who thinks about the world we are now living in.

Reviewed by Shatakshi Gawade


Spirit of the Forest

Created by Nirupa Rao, Directed by Nandini Rao and Nirupa Rao  |  A Sacred Grove, India  | 7 minutes.

How I would love to meet the Spirit of the Forest. That was enough of an invitation to watch the film, and its animation was just a cherry on top. 

Sacred groves are dense, biodiverse patches of forests, which are protected for their religious significance by a community, a practice which has protected these rich banks of indigenous plants. 

This one is a special recommendation for children. In its short run time of six minutes and 50 seconds it captures the magic of the sacred grove, its importance, and the urgency to protect these little havens. The film shows the grove through vivid, beautifully animated panels, as the little girl takes a ride through its secrets, just like Alice in Wonderland. Be sure to check out this delightful little nugget at ALT EFF.

Reviewed by Shatakshi Gawade

The Seeds of Vandana Shiva

Directed by Camilla Becket and James Becket  |  Australia  | 1 hour 21 minutes.

“When you sell real weapons and arms, you control armies. When you control food, you control society. When you control seed, you control life on Earth.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva

If there is just one thing you want to take away from this film, I think this should be it. 

Or also, the strength and energy that radiates from Vandana Shiva, the Gandhian eco-activist. 

Or, speaking of Gandhiji, his oft-repeated thought that influenced resistances across the globe – “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Dr. Shiva is an embodiment of this charm, and hearing about her life’s work, never again would one raise the question “What difference can a single person make?”. But with the all important caveat of identifying the interconnectedness and interdependence of life and nature, and the strength of like-minded, true voices. 

Or… well, I really could go on about all the things one could learn from this power-packed, action-packed movie on the life of physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva, who studies, writes about and fights for the environment, water, rights of the people, and seed sovereignty, among other pressing issues of our times. 

The film-makers have done justice to capturing the canvas of complicated subjects that Dr. Shiva has dealt with, which is likely to compel the viewer to dig deeper into the topics and question everything from global systems to the food on their plate. 

Again, definitely one of the films to dedicate your time to at ALT EFF. 

Reviewed by Shatakshi Gawade

Revival of Manas

Directed by Green Hub Fellows Rangjalu Basumatary and Nongmaithen Rocky Meitei  |  Manas National Park, Assam | 27 minutes.

Serene, cinematic shots took me straight into the heart of the beautiful landscape and rich biodiversity of the Manas National Park in Assam. But where there are resources, there are people. The beauty of Manas and the wellbeing of its neighbouring human population are the results of an ingenious balancing of people’s aspirations, their sensitivity to protect the environment, and even an armed political struggle. 

The film tracks the destruction that Manas faced during the turbulent period of the Bodoland movement, showing how human political conflict can influence the fate of biodiversity. At the same time, the film also brings to light a shining example of how community involvement can protect endangered oases. The film showcases the hard-fought victory of the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society, a community-based society for conservation and ecotourism.

Imagine this – while people fight for their rights and lives, you have to convince them to think about endangered wildlife. That is the crucial role played by MMES for Manas, which you experience for yourself in this film. 

Reviewed by Shatakshi Gawade


The Plastic Bag Store 

Directed by Robin Frohardt | United States of America | 56 minutes. 

Plastic is so ubiquitous, it has infiltrated our lives at a cellular level. Have you ever wondered about what a future in a world that is getting filled with more and more plastic everyday looks like? 

The Plastic Bag store is an extremely creative and thought-provoking response to that question. It weaves timelines of past, present and future just as seamlessly as it brings together several art forms to explore rich themes related to our deep relationship to this material. 

I really enjoyed the satirical tone of the film and its fresh aesthetic. It begins in a grocery store that exclusively serves up (you guessed it!)... plastic, but then the scenes change to an animated history lesson that explores the origins of our obsession with plastic, a stunning puppet show that manages to convey the alienation of our times, our careless ways and ends with a message in a bottle…without much needing to be said. It is in the futuristic scenes that the full power of this film comes through. It gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves and the times we live in as a mere footnote in history, and to imagine how humans many years from now might interpret the story of our civilisation based on our most enduring artefacts. 

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta


Chidiya, Pujara aur Solah Rala Chor

Directed by Milind Chhabra | India | 58 minutes.

This beautifully made documentary about the role that rala (foxtail millet) plays in the culture, beliefs and livelihoods of indigenous communities in Central India strikes a fine balance between poetry and realism. Interviews with the increasingly rare farmers who still cultivate local varieties of grains give the viewer insights into the importance of these plants to them, and reveal how the demand for capital has put enormous pressure on these communities and their way of life. 

We hear stories of Goddess Kansari – goddess of foodgrain and fertility – who wears ornaments of rosella, corn, and the most valued and nutritious seeds in the community. The documentary features the folk musicians and artists who sing about her and paint her on their ochre walls, and they speak about her with a pragmatic reverence. As the documentary unfolded I realised that this is not just a film about food sovereignty, but also about indigenous wisdom, climate change and the pressures of urbanisation. All of these themes converge most memorably in the telling of the story that has given this movie its title ‘Chidiya, Pujara aur Solah Rala Chor’. 

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta

My Neighbour is a Bear

Directed by Mattia Cialoni | Italy | 16 minutes.

What would you do if you found out that you had as neighbours, not one, but five bears? When this happens to Sabrina in the charming village of Villalago which lie at the foothills of the Abruzzo Appenines, she decides to make the most of this rare opportunity and spends all of her free time observing and documenting their presence in her village. 

A heartwarming short that highlights the importance of citizen science efforts in conserving Marsican bears, of which there are just 50 remaining in the wild. It tells a simple and sweet story of how concepts of belonging and tolerance can be extended towards not just fellow humans, but wild animals too. I felt almost as excited as Sabrina every time the family of bears she had her eye on would show up on screen!

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta

A Sacred Oasis on the Cusp of Change

Directed by BIONT | India | 8 minutes 52 seconds.

Deg Rai Mata oran is a large sacred grove in Rajasthan. This short briefly acquaints us with the various wild residents of this vibrant, life-sustaining oasis in the desert and the villagers who protect this ecosystem as a way of life for centuries. Here, conservation is second nature to the villagers and they find joy in sharing their spaces with wildlife. They take immense pride in the fact that not a single leaf is cut inside the oran. 

However, high tension power lines for a renewable energy project have interfered with the delicate balance of the sacred grove. Collisions with the tall, imposing structures have been causing wildlife injuries and deaths by the dozens. The villagers express their pain over no longer being able to guarantee guests such as the wintering Demoiselle Cranes from Mongolia a safe stay in their villages. 

The sharp footage capturing interesting natural history moments of chinkaras, hares, foxes, desert cats, hedgehogs, spiny-tailed lizards, sand boas and a variety of birds in the Deg Rai Mata sacred grove made this short film a delight to watch.

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta


All That Breathes

Directed by Shaunak Sen | India | 1 hour 34 minutes.

Nadeem and Saud are two Muslim brothers who, along with a young man called Salik, run a wildlife rescue centre in Delhi where they treat sick or injured raptors, mainly black kites, who are falling out of the sky in large numbers owing to the highly polluted urban landscape they live in. Set against the backdrop of rising communal violence in Delhi in 2020 over a bill that targets Muslims, we learn that the urgency of the brothers’ work is tied to identity – kites are not accepted at bird hospitals for being ‘non vegetarian’. 

It is the camaraderie between the men and the surprising tenderness with which they care for the birds set against the backdrop of a run-down, polluted city that makes this documentary so mesmerising to watch. The brothers speak about their larger-than-life connection to every being that breathes, their observations on how urban kites have been uniquely adapting to a difficult environment and on their dreams for the future. Some lines appeal directly to the heart, as when Nadeem says, “You don’t care for things because you share the same country, religion or politics. Life itself is kinship. We’re all a community of air. That’s why we cannot leave the birds.”

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta



Directed by Vandana Menon, Vivek Singh Sangwan and Debashish Nandi | India | 8 minutes 45 seconds.

Thirty years ago, the women of the Gunduribari tribal village in Odisha grew sick of being bullied and harassed by the timber mafia looking to illegally extract teak from their forest. Fed up of being excluded from the decision making processes regarding forest management practices in their locality, they decided to take matters into their own hands. In the absence of adequate government support, they formed their own forest protection team, taking turns to patrol the forests during the day and night. They have an efficient and decentralised system in place, thanks to which these degraded and barren lands have regenerated over the years.

Though the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was passed in 2006, recognising the legal right of tribal communities to dwell in their traditional forest lands, the indigenous people of India continue to remain neglected by the state; their lands exploited by industries with vested interests. This short film gives us a hopeful glimpse into what a self-defined stewardship over land can look like, and shows us a true meaning of resilience. It is an inspiring example of community conservation at its best. 

Reviewed by Francesca Cotta



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