Urban human-nature resonance for sustainability transformation


Moving from crisis to resonance: A summer cinema



Films tell stories, they touch and move their audience. In this vein, the summer cinema offered the opportunity to experience nature, care about her, and be touched by her beauty. In order to see nature in her different facets and to connect with her in times of socio-ecological crises, the URBNANCE team invited Dresden’s citizens to an open-air film series between July and September 2022. The summer cinema was presented in cooperation with UFER-Projekte Dresden e.V. at the “Alte Gärtnerei” in Dresden-Pieschen.
We used the beautiful location of the “Alte Gärtnerei” and the medium of film to engage with the visitors in a conversation about human-nature resonance as a lever for deep transformations towards sustainability. The film selection allowed us to explore how the destruction and exploitation of nature affects us in different ways and also showed alternatives on how we can have a relationship in terms of human-nature partnerships. A relationship in which nature is not seen as an inanimate object, but as a living being whose health is closely interwoven with our own well-being. To encourage moments of reflection, we invited visitors to share their thoughts and feelings after each film. At the end of the film series, we organized an interactive discussion with the protagonists of the film “Butenland”, which enabled us to engage in an even deeper conversation with each other. In the spirit of a partnership between people and food, we had a vegan buffet every evening, which was kindly provided by the plants that grow at the “Alte Gärtnerei”.


Invitation card to the summer cinema

8th July – ”Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”

According to Harmut Rosa, resonant relationships cannot be forced. This aspect of Rosa’s concept of unavailability was immediately present at the first event of the cinema series. During the planning of the event in July, we imagined that numerous people would come together on a warm summer evening and enjoy the sunshine with cold drinks in their hands. However, things turned out differently: on the day of the event, there was a drop in temperature and thick jackets and warm tea had to replace t-shirts and refreshing drinks. Despite the cold temperatures, about a dozen people came to the summer cinema kick-off. Fortunately, the team of the “Alte Gärtnerei” provided blankets and the vegan raspberry cookies created a cozy and intimate atmosphere.


A glimpse of the vegan buffet


However, the cozy setting did not quite fit the selected film "Anthropocene: The Human Epoch". The film addresses the modern human-nature relationship, which is characterized by the drastic exploitation and destruction of the earth by humans. The Anthropocene represents the dawn of a new geological age in which humans dominate and leave irreversible traces in the system of the earth, be it through drilling for oil in the desert, deforestation of tropical rainforests to supply European markets, or plastic pollution of the oceans. The symptoms of the massive human interventions are evident in the vast species extinctions that we witness at the moment and in the increasinging extreme weather events such as droughts or floods due to climate change. These impacts clearly show that we need to reduce our ecological footprint to prevent our planet from collapsing. In powerful images, the film team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky illustrated the global human dominance over the planet, be it through the burning of elephant tusks in Kenya to destroy stolen goods, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or the ever-increasing human encroachment on soil using the example of open-pit lignite mining in the Rhineland area.

The audience was left with a feeling of helplessness and unresolved questions: Why are we doing this? Where can we start to change the current situation? At the same time, the film also showed that it is our responsibility as humans to make a difference. It demonstrates our irrevocable interconnectedness with nature and suggests that her rediscovery and nurturing are crucial to reorient our relationship with nature. The second film illustrated what such an alternative relationship might look like.


A summer evening atmosphere

5th August – ”Daugther of the lake”

The second event of our cinema series took place on August 5 and was dedicated to the question of what paths there are for societal transformations from the destructive Anthropocene to human-nature partnerships. There were forecasts of thunderstorms for the evening. However, the weather luckily changed throughout the day and the event could take place, allowing small groups of visitors to trickle in little by little. The food was lovingly prepared by the team of the “Alte Gärtnerei” and we were working busily to make the canvas windproof – to resist the remaining stronger gusts of wind.


Welcoming the guests to the second evening


A little later than planned, we started showing "Daughter of the lake" (Original: Hija de la laguna), a film by Peruvian director Ernesto Cabellos Damian (2015). The film follows Nélida, an indigenous woman from the Peruvian Andes, who identifies as the spiritual daughter of the lakes and campaigns against the destructive mining of gold in the Andes. She studies law to protect her community from mining companies that extract gold from the earth's interior to supply the financial industry, and the technology sector and to produce luxury goods such as watches and jewelry. 
The audience could literally feel how Nélida resonates with the lakes of her homeland (warning, spoiler!). Her life at the lakes and the many practical and emotionally meaningful experiences that she has made there, created a relationship based on a caring exchange between her and the lakes. This bond nourishes her resistance to the destructive practices of gold mining. Nélida and her fellow activists gather on top of the mountain and place themselves protectively in front of the threatened landscape. The police leaves and at least this time, the protagonists in the documentary gain a victory. In the last scene, Nélida thanks the lakes for their deep bond and for giving her strength for years of resistance. The harvesting after the film showed that it had touched the audience indeed.


Reflection of impressions and touching moments


Many participants were shocked, felt sad, or powerless in the face of the destruction of nature caused by the extraction of gold to supply the financial industry and others. Some felt love and admiration for the resistance and the fight of the protagonists. Personally, we were left with the following questions regarding the production of precious jewelry:

Does jewelry have to be precious in the material sense? And if so, why?
And, if no exclusively nature-compatible jewelry can be produced at the moment, should it be produced as a luxury good at all?

How limits of nonhuman nature`s availability can be respected in the sense of a partnership was shown in the third film evening.

 2nd September – ”Butenland“

The last event of the summer cinema series took place on an early autumn evening in September. We were specifically looking for a film that would transmit a feeling of lived resonance and show us how to implement human-nature partnerships in practice. In particular, we wanted to focus on a good life for all. This includes a good life for animals and, importantly, not only pets but also so-called "farm animals" like cows.

Closely linked to the URBNANCE work package on human-food-resonance, the film “Butenland” showed how a more appreciative treatment of animals without the exploitation of cows for the dairy industry can look like. “Butenland” is a former dairy farm that became a cow retirement home. The film was first released in 2020 and was produced by the filmmaker Marc Pierschel, who accompanied Jan Gerdes and Karin Mück (“Hof Butenland” Foundation) on their farm for two years.


At the beginning of the third evening


The visitors of the summer cinema were invited to an emotional roller coaster ride. On the one hand, the frightening and unimaginable conditions in the dairy industry were shown. The dairy industry is characterized by breeding fairs for ultra-productive cows that seem to exist only for the purpose of giving milk. On the other hand, by watching the movie, we also witnessed the enormous dedication of Jan and Karin, who try to give cows a good life every day. We observed true moments of happiness when the animals romped in the pastures and could just be cows, who enjoy the company of their fellows.

However, further downsides of the breeding of dairy cows, and the keeping of cows as "farm animals" in general are depicted in the movie. The violent practices include the painful and often far too early death of many of our cow friends. For example, cows that normally live up to 20 years, only live for an average of 5.5 years in the dairy industry, and, in the meat industry, cows mostly only live up to a maximum of 2 years. Such cows are taken in at “Hof Butenland” and often go through severe illnesses due to overbreeding. But thanks to the commitment of Jan and Karin, they can spend their remaining days in peace, on lush green pastures and with people who value them, respect them and just “leave them alone for once”, as Karin beautifully puts it. After the showing of this touching film, there was a discussion with Jan and Karin (founders of “Hof Butenland”), who came all the way to Dresden, as well as Antonia (food council, “Ernährungsrat Dresden”) and Mabel (URBNANCE). We discussed how possible pathways toward a new understanding of food could look like and were inspired by the different perspectives of the participants from practice and research.


Discussion panel following the film


We are grateful for the inspiring evenings with vegan and locally produced snacks from the “Alte Gärtnerei”, the moving contents delivered by the protagonists and makers of the films, and the inspiring conversations with the visitors. On the one hand, the selected films showed exploitative and destructive effects of humans on nonhuman nature, which created feelings of helplessness and speechlessness. On the other hand, the films provided us with courage and hope. We don't have to live and operate this way. We can create a society based on values of compassion and care, and through social courage and commitment, making a good life for all on this beautiful planet. We are all heroes of change and we hope that with this summer cinema we have been able to transmit this feeling of self-efficacy to the visitors.



Authors:  Philip Harms, Susanne Müller, Mabel Killinger and Martina Artmann

If you have any comments or question on the essay, feel warmly invited to contact the author (p.harmsioer@ioer.de)

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