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The Land of Azaba provides a glance at a place of ecological hope

Audrey Kupferberg pointing out some of her favorite Hollywood movie posters in her home in 2021.
Jackie Orchard
Audrey Kupferberg

Greta Schiller’s recent documentary, The Land of Azaba, takes viewers to a place on the Spanish-Portuguese border, a nature reserve where ecological restoration is taking place. People with a passion for conservation are conducting an extensive experiment. As part of a worldwide movement to re-balance the ecosystem, they have taken control of a measure of land, a large meadow called The Dehesa.

There scientists have gathered the most ancient breeds of cattle, sheep, horses, owls, vultures, rabbits, ants, frogs, and dragonflies. Ancient acorn trees and ash trees begin to exhibit regrowth. Experts and daily maintenance workers have made the unclean water of a lagoon clear again through a restoration of nature.

The problem involves bio-diversity, the variety of life on earth and how it has changed, and is changing, through the years. With intensive farming, global warming, and other contaminating factors, species of plants and animals have grown extinct. Nature is out of balance. Schiller shows us that scientific planning plus the hard work of restoration and respectful care can bring forth a better balance of nature and human lifestyles.

As a viewer whose closest experience with natural conservation was growing tomatoes at the age of twelve, The Land of Azaba seemed to be a documentary outside my purview. Still, I took the opportunity to see the film. Why? Because Greta Schiller cannot make a film that is not interesting, intelligent, and masterly fashioned. With her life partner and creative partner, Andrea Weiss, the two have made Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community, International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Paris Was a Woman, The Man Who Drove with Mandela, and many other documentaries. Their company, Jezebel Productions, is respected throughout the industry.

By watching The Land of Azaba, I not only was able to get a picture of the bio-diversity problem facing all of us, but I also was entertained. The camerawork is outstanding. With special lenses, close-up shots of wild living things are possible. These shots bring viewers into the drama that is taking place at The Dehesa. As an archivist, I have worked on identifying and restoring nature documentaries from more than 100 years ago. Filmmakers then were perplexed by the problem of capturing close shots of animals and birds, of being able to follow living species without blurring the images or losing their subjects. Of course, with modern techniques, Schiller’s camerawork is spot-on.

She and my late husband, Rob Edelman were friends. Among other things, they shared the belief that films could educate and change the world. Schiller says that she “wanted to make The Land of Azaba because people need stories of hope and success to overcome despair.”

This film isn’t just an optimist’s view of confronting the problems of bio-diversity and climate change. The story of work on The Dehesa is challenging, downbeat. For instance, a large dead animal needs to be removed from the meadow. And we are reminded that without regular maintenance, the clear water in the lagoon will return to its former state. Overall, however, the film shares more of the hope and beauty of this natural world than its dereliction.

The Land of Azaba is available on DVD from Kino Lorber and digitally on KinoNow.com.

Audrey Kupferberg is a retired film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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