A new documentary film ‘Green Gold’ shows how huge swathes of land have gone from growing comestibles to combustibles and how this has had a devastating impact on people and planet. METAmag reviews the film.

It all started with a phone call for the Belgian director Sergio Ghizzardi, when a friend asked him if he’d be interested in making a documentary about biofuels. And audiences should be thankful he picked up the phone as the resulting film ‘Green Gold’ is a must see not only for environmentalists – but for anyone who as ever travelled in a car.

While many people might not realise it, 5.75% of the diesel motorists put in their vehicles at the pump is actually a biofuel, meaning fuel made from crops such as rapeseed, wheat or soya, for example. In 2007, biofuels were held up by political leaders as the renewable energy that would wean us off oil and solve our climate problems.

But while it sounded promising, the reality was somewhat less rosy. Huge amounts of land are required to grow the crops needed to introduce even a small percentage of biofuels into diesel. Swathes of land that were once used to grow food are now monocultures sprayed with dangerous amounts of pesticides, grown solely for use as fuel.

The film highlights the devastating climate impact of biofuel production in countries such as Argentina and Indonesia when catastrophic amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere as forests are cleared to grow biofuel crops.

Sergio also meets some of the world’s most vulnerable communities that are on the frontline of biofuel production when multinationals grab their land and (literally) kill off small-scale farming, meaning land goes from growing comestibles to combustibles.

While the film started as a story about the impact of biofuels it also became a story about power, specifically the power wielded in the so-called ‘Brussels bubble’ by industry heavyweights in the biofuels sector. They exercise huge influence over many decision makers in the European institutions, regardless of the devastating impact the production of biofuels has on people and planet.

Seven years in the making, ‘Green Gold’ hits selected cinema screens this week. And away from the heart of European decision making but still in the Belgian capital, a special screening was held last night at the ‘Cinema Aventure’ in the centre of Brussels in the presence of Sergio Ghizzardi.

The film was followed by a debate with two people who know more than most about the ins and outs of biofuels, Faustine Bas-Defossez from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Trees Robijns from NABU/BirdLife. Robijns said that not only is the film fascinating and an essential contribution to the debate but that it is also a trip down memory lane for the pair, as both her and Bas-Defossez have been closely following the biofuels saga for the last eight years. The low point being the European Parliament’s decision not to rein in the dirtiest biofuels in 2013 – despite calls from many NGOs to clean up the sector.

While the film took such a long time to finish due to setbacks such as Sergio being denied a journalist visa to travel to Indonesia to film there, the protracted production period is actually one of its strengths as it is an extensive look at the issue.

The film sees Sergio meet the MEPs who have been instrumental in the pushback against biofuels several times, such as Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout and former French MEP Corinne Le Page. And when Sergio captures Le Page’s dismay at the influence the biofuels’ industry had over many of her colleagues at the 2013 vote it is the film’s powerful call to arms to European audiences to make their voices heard and hold their MEPs to account. ‘Green Gold’ shows only too well how decisions taken in the European Parliament can be felt all over the world.

And despite the blatant devastating impact of biofuels shown in the documentary, just next week the European Parliament’s Industry committee could vote to increase the amount of biofuels used in the EU transport sector.

Sergio Ghizzardi’s film might have taken seven years to complete but it couldn’t be timelier.

You can catch the film in Brussels at the Cinema Aventure this weekend.