Happy Planet for healthier people

Raziqueh Hussain
Filed on July 2, 2010

His eyes look too yellow, like hes a smoker, a student calls out.

“And is that a purple light emanating from his nostrils?” another asks. Someone assures them that those lighting issues will soon be resolved. They’re examining the grandchild, an animated kid whose 3-D image rotates on the computer screen. The minor lighting quibbles are quickly overcome by a swell of compliments, and applause, for the kid’s exterior texture.

The second batch of SAE students are going over the progress on various elements of their nearly completed animated short, Happy Planet Project.

The project is a one minute, high definition public service animation, suitable for TV and cinema, currently in production. A positive and unusual look at where your burger comes from. Eat more fruit and vegetables that are good for you and the environment — that’s the message.

Standing at the side of the screen, director Donna Don displays more of the team’s recent technical and artistic feats — from the rustling leaves of a tree in the rainforest to the soft glow of an orange reflecting off various set angles and textures. She listens carefully to critiques and maps out a plan for revisions.

The Happy Planet Project, was created by Don, a Dubai-based filmmaker, as a direct response to the continuing destruction of the rainforests, particularly for beef production. The animation has rainforests, cows grazing and is also a tribute to ‘The Godfather’, with him and his grandson on a vegetable patch. In the original, the Godfather dies because of his unhealthy lifestyle but here he lives because it’s a happy planet.

Students of SAE are interning with Don and are working for six hours daily, for five days a week. “I don’t like fast food anyway and I’m happy to be doing something about it,” says Dimitri Jerikhine, an intern. “And it’s time that people give back what they can to the environment.”

The project has support from Emirates Environment Group and another group from Australia who are concerned about the issue. “The concern here is universal because the UAE is not the only country that doesn’t eat healthy. Fast food culture has caught up here and it’s sad because the locals used to have a very healthy lifestyle. When I came here 17 years ago there wasn’t a single fast food joint except for Hardees, but now unfortunately it’s awash with one at every nook and cranny,” she says.

The animation is aimed at family audiences as a non-profit venture. “Kids love to see things grow. They feel that it’s magic because most of the children here feel that vegetables come only in plastic bags from supermarkets. And if even a single child starts eating fruits and vegetables I’ll be most happy,” she says. There are also plans to make it into a video game.

Don heads unmedicated productions and her work covers all genres. “I love being behind the camera, talking to people and while working on Happy Planet, I’m also doing a documentary on women filmmakers all over the world and why is it when women constitute nearly half the population there’s hardly a female voice in this area.” she asks.

This film is going to be a three-part feature for television. Don did interviews travelling around the world, interviewing female directors and their experiences and what they see as real problems. “I was lucky to get to speak to Julie Berticelli, director of French Tree at Cannes,” she says adding, “Well, there’s a major concern for positive role models for women and I’m quite concerned about women’s issues,” she says. In this documentary she plans to add some animation to give it a humourous touch.

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