Turkish trash in the literal sense of the term, the subject of “Polluting Paradise” isn’t quite as sexy as that of Fatih Akin’s previous nonfiction outing, “Crossing the Bridge,” about the vibrant Istanbul music scene. But it’s not only the subject that’s less seductive, but also the filmmaking. Shot over five years, this traipsing, unfocused docu traces the creation of and problems caused by a government-imposed garbage dump close to a village on the Black Sea. Because of its subject and the Turkish-German helmer’s reputation, the eco-friendly film should see fest and minor theatrical bookings alongside smallscreen sales.
Akin’s family on his father’s side came from Camburnu, a northeast village some four miles from the sea whose economy seems to depend mainly on the harvesting of tea leaves by women (“The men claim their right to be lazy,” one of them nonchalantly explains). Ten years ago, the regional authorities decided to turn the village’s abandoned copper strip mine into a landfill site that would hold waste from the surrounding communities.
Despite regulations that seem quite strict on paper and promises made to the local population that everything would be safe, clean and odor-free, there are problems from day one. The enormous basin is not properly isolated, and the water that seeps through the waste and should theoretically be treated before being released either leaks away or, during heavy rains, simply spills over from the effluent tank. The stench is terrible, attracting stray dogs and birds that feed on the junk pile.
Though it’s stated early on that the footage was shot between 2007-12, there is no indication of timeframes, except for the occasionally snow-covered landscape suggesting another season has passed. Editing isn’t particularly refined; a cut from a floating syringe to a child playing nearby (presumably) gets the point across in a very black-and-white manner that’s unsustainable for a feature-length docu.
Something similar could be said of the footage, which succeeds in suggesting the villagers-vs.-authorities dynamic but lacks the details that might elevate it from a generic struggle to an involving and righteous battle over a precise ecological disaster. Court cases brought against and initiated by the sympathetic mayor, Huseyin Alioglu, are briefly referenced but never explained, while the frequent shouting matches between officials and vocal locals remain frustratingly generic.
Also somewhat glib is the fact that Akin edits himself out of the film completely, though he admits, in the press materials, he was involved in contacting some of the highest authorities (unseen onscreen) and staging some of the protests shown in the film. Short, talking-head soundbite moments with unidentified subjects reveal a little about the ideas of some of the villagers, but little else.
Technically, the HD-shot film is passable. Some musical scenes, though not narratively warranted, offer the expected Akin touch.