Responsible land development: Documentary screening and debate in Brussels

29. 7. 2015
Frank Bold co-organised the screening of the documentary “A Dangerous Game” as part of the One World Film Festival, the largest human rights film festival in the world.

Organised by the NGO People in Need, it represents a major event in the Czech Republic involving 33 cities and attracting more than 100.000 viewers every year. A selection of 17 documentaries travelled to the Belgium capital and were screened for the 9th edition of Brussels' One World Film Festival hosted by the Czech Centre in Brussels and other partners.

'A Dangerous Game' is the sequel to the award-winning 'You've Been Trumped' and picks up the David vs Goliath tale of opposition by locals to the construction of luxury golf courses. The documentary chronicles the human and environmental impact of irresponsible land development worldwide, focusing on the specific cases affecting Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Aberdeen (Scotland). The movie features breathtaking scenaries and plays with radically opposed characters, pairing people such as the local farmer Michael Forbes and the tycoon Donald Trump, or the civil society representatives in Duvrobnik and its mayor.

The screening led to a debate about responsible land development where the following question was raised: is it possible to balance profit with the interests of the environment and local communities? The debate was enhanced by the presence of:

Anthony Baxter, director of the film

Marion Alecier, project manager at ARAU, non-profit association that examines both public and private urban developement projects.

Peter Thoelen, director of VIBE, Flemish institute promoting healthy and eco-friendly buildings natural building materials, and sustainable green urban development.

The director Anthony Baxter commented on some of the controversial issues dealt with in the film. In the case of Dubrovnik, for instance, he argued that democratic mechanisms were clearly ignored, but even if the outcome of the referendum was not respected by the authorities, “they still are very committed, the heart and soul of the movement are still there” and “at the end of the day, all democracy must be local”.

Peter Thoelen from VIBE agreed that all participants/stakeholders should take responsibility for their place of living and should have the opportunity to take part in the decision making process. When a project is conceived, the first thing that needs to be taken into consideration according to Peter is to “not impose or force a development by actually destroying the exisiting values”. He also emphasised that both in Croatia and Scotland, valuable existing landscapes would be destroyed. By ‘valuable’ he understood it could be from a biodiversity, cultural, historical or human point of view.

Marion Alecian pointed out several recurring themes among the civil society mobilisations against irresponsible land or town planning. The first one was the apparently irrefutable argument of economic outputs, such as the promise of creation of jobs, which seems to override all other criteria to assess a project. Director Anthony Baxter completely agreed and stated that in Aberdeen “no one was looking at the environmental impact, the media was only covering the economic benefits”. In his documentary, he shows how “Donald Trump promised 1500 new jobs; in the end he is just employing 66 people”.

Marion also mentioned the issue of privatization of public space and accessibility of public territory, questioning the place of public interest in the development of such big projects. In the same vein, she concluded by commenting on the denial of environmental problems and needs of inhabitants by local representatives themselves.

The event gathered about 50 people that enjoyed the opportunity to engage a conversation with Anthony, Marion and Peter after the debate. Both the film and discussion awakened the audience's interest concerning the sustainability of golf courses, and wondered if there is a way to stop misguided projects from becoming reality.

"Whenever you see large scale environmental injury, you’ll also see the subversion of democracy. The two things go hand in hand. They always do.”  Robert F. Kennedy Jr. interview in 'A Dangerous Game'

 Download Poster of the event: A Dangerous Game pdf

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Frank Bold