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Laughing at Death: Europe's Happiest ...
Sapanta
By danubestory
04 Dec 2014

While the lives of Sapanta residents is marked by the rhythm of horse-drawn ploughs, of looms spinning wool into rough blankets and cloth for clothes, and the distilling of 'tuica' (TSUI-ka), a potent local fruit liquor; their deaths are marked with color and humor.

In this northern Romanian village, the “Merry Cemetery” brings smiles or cheeky grins to the faces of visitors and locals there to pay their respects to the dead. Colorfully painted, handed-crafted oak tombstones tell the stories of the lives and deaths of the deceased in a humorous, brutally honest tone. The “Merry Cemetery” in Sapanta is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and draws thousands of tourists every year.

The tradition started when a local woodworker named Stan Ioan Patras carved and painted the first tombstone in 1935, gracing it with a lighthearted epitaph that he came up with to commemorate the death of a neighbor. After his death in 1977, woodworker, painter, poet and farmer Dumitru Pop took residence in his workshop and kept the tradition alive. When a member of the community dies, he goes to work coming up with an (often hilarious) epitaph that best represents the deceased, carving a playful scene and painting the tombstone in bright blues, reds, greens and earthtones. Mr. Pop’s background in classical and contemporary Romanian literature gives his epitaphs a resonance that goes deep into the village’s collective memory.

Some ethnologists studying the cemetery believe that the lighthearted and humorous attitude towards death in this region may be a remnant of Dacian culture. Early inhabitants of Romania, the Dacians greeted death with open arms because it meant meeting the greatest of their gods, Zalmoxis. As in many cultures, certain attitudes and practices were easily integrated into monotheistic worldviews that came later, in this case Orthodox Christianity. According to a local Orthodox priest, people in the region do not necessarily see death as if it were a tragedy, but rather as a passage to another life.

The practice even survived Romania’s communist era despite Soviet communism’s largely atheistic and secular worldview. A grave marker commemorating Ioan Holdis, a local Communist official reads:

“As long as I lived, I loved the Party And all my life I tried to help the people.”

However, the best loved epitaphs are the funniest, the ones that make mourning and remembering the dead a hilarious affair:

“Under this heavy cross Lies my poor mother in-law Three more days she would have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause' if she comes back home
She'll criticize me more.
But I will surely behave
So she'll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!”

Shot list and Subtitles

(00:05 – 00:11) W/S In a small village in Romania, a cemetery makes people smile. (00:12 -00:17) D/M Cheerful, colourful tombstones tell the stories of people who lived in the village of Sapanta in country’s north. (00:18 – 00:23) D/S The unconventional way of commemorating the deceased cheerfully and honestly shows death as an inevitability. (00:24 – 00:29) D/S Gravestones here tell of the persons virtues but tell the truth about their vices. (00:30 – 00:35) W/S The “Merry Cemetery” was declared as a UNESCO site, (00:36 – 00:41) W/S one of the reasons Sapanta is among the most visited Romanian villages. (00:42 – 00:47) W/S A church in the middle of the cemetery solemnly venerates the saints (00:48 – 00:53) D/S But common mortals may be humorous. (00:54 – 00:59) M/M Thanks to vibrant illustrations, visitors understand the stories of people from the village even if they don’t read Romanian. (01:00 – 01:05) M/S “Here lies the good tractor operator.” (01:06 – 01:11) D/S “Here the hardworking farmer rests in peace.” (01:12 – 01:17) M/M This person died in a car accident. (01:18 – 01:23) D/S “Father and son.” (01:24 – 01:29) D/S “A man drowned in the river.” (01:30 – 01:35) M/S The first painted wooden cross was made here in 1935. (01:36 – 01:41) M/M This humorous way of commemorating the dead was the idea of local woodworker Stan Ioan Patras. (01:42 – 01:47) W/M He lived and worked on his carvings in this house near the cemetery. (01:48 – 01:53) M/S He even carved naive portraits of Romanian communist dictator Ceausescu and his government (01:54 – 01:59) M/S and of notable townsmen. (02:00 – 02:05) W/M The workshop has bustled with activity and honest humor ever since. After Patras’ death in 1977, Dumitru Pop took over the workshop. (02:06 – 02:11) W/S Locals believe that humorous verses are the best way to remember their loved ones. (02:18 – 02:23) But they are not allowed to tell Dumitru what shall he write. (02:24 – 02:29) D/S Each wooden is crafted precisely by hand.. (02:30 – 02:35) D/S They are all made from local oak (02:36 – 02:41) M/S and painted with vivid colours. The main color is blue, the color of heaven, where the living strive to end up. (02:42 – 02:47) M/S Dumitru says that the epitaphs are all true stories. (02:48 – 02:53) D/S Perhaps death is easier, knowing that his learned hands will make a cheerful tombstone in ones commemoration. (02:54 – 02:59) D/S “Busy housewives but also mischiefs are waiting for them.” (03:00 – 03:05) D/S On the tombstone of a distiller the epitaph reads: “Everybody in Sapanta loved me, as I produced elixir of life.

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Lublewo, Poland 2014
lublewo
By Laura Chiaroni
20 Oct 2014

A gas flare is a combustion device used in oil or gas production sites having wells and rigs. This operation consists in burning off the overproduced gas, which would be too much expensive to stock and transport. Gas flaring has serious environmental consequences and it is a significant source of carbon dioxide (as well as several other carcinogenic substances) emissions.

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Danube Story
Bratislava
By danubestory
23 Sep 2014

DanubeStory tells stories of people and their relationship to the second longest river in Europe, the Danube. Slovakian filmmakers Jana Cavojska and Vladimir Kampf traveled on and along the 3 000 kilometer-long river several times, upstream and downstream, in search of people and practices to tell the story of their country and region. A colorful mix of their lives and livelihoods is beautifully intertwined with the simple story of the river. Despite of the fact that the richest are close to the source of the Danube, and the standard of living goes down with the stream of the river, none of the stories lament a destiny, but rather celebrate this unique mix of lively cultures and practices.

In part 1 of the film viewers will flow downstream in the summer and meet a biofarmer and guardian of a river spring in Germany, a traditional wooden ship builder in Austria, a biologist and underwater photographer in Slovakia, a bridge maintainer in Hungary, an ornithologist in Croatia, a gallery owner in Serbia, a distiller in Bulgaria, a musician in Moldova, a photographer in Ukraine and a frog hunter in Romania.

In part 2 of the film viewers will head upstream in wintertime and meet a hotel manager in Ukraine, a speech pathologist in Moldova, a choir master in Bulgaria, a kayak trainer in Romania, a ferry operator in Serbia, a mercenary soldier in Croatia, a mask maker in Hungary, a shipman in Slovakia, a café owner in Austria and a hat maker in Germany.

This film may also be viewed as a series of 5 minute videos on each character.

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Cévennes, France 2014
Cévennes
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Sep 2014

In July 2011 France was the first European country to pass a law (“Loi Jacob”) banning the technique of hydraulic fracturing for extracting natural gas and oil. The big popular demonstration of Villeneuve de Berg on February 2011 was an important turning point in the cancellation of the first exploration permits within the Cévennes National Park area and towards the national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

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Karmin, Poland 2014
karmin
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Sep 2014

Fracking operations produce loud noises and need a stable and strong illumination, even at night. When drilling sites lie a short distance away from houses and villages, the lives of the inhabitants suffer significant difficulties.

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Miłowo, Poland 2014
milowo
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Sep 2014

Deforestation caused by test extractions of shale gas in Milowo, northern Poland.

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Lubocino, Poland 2014
lubocino
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Sep 2014

A PGNiG worker is verifying the progress of excavation in the fracking site of Lubocino, northern Poland.

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Baraniec, Poland 2014
baraniec
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Sep 2014

A rig used for shale gas extractions by FX Energy, an American oil company.

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Aujac, France 2014
Aujac
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Aug 2014

André Agniel, former Mayor of Aujac from 2001 to 2014, poses next to the Rue Josh Fox plate. This street has been named after the young American director and activist Josh Fox, author of Gasland. In 2010 this documentary was the first and the most important testimony against fracking that led to the creation of several protest movements all over the world. Rue Josh Fox was inaugurated on the 29th of May 2014.

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Rome, Italy 2014
rome
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Aug 2014

ENI headquarters. In 2010 the Italian oil company ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi) obtained three licenses for shale gas exploitation in Poland. After less than four years, the company was among the first ones to give up all of its polish shale gas permits because of tough geology and an unclear regulatory environment.

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Bruxelles, Belgium 2014
bruxelles
By Laura Chiaroni
05 Jun 2014

A Chevron billboard inside the central railway station in Bruxelles. In June 2014, the Belgian capital has hosted the G8 summit about clean energy and climate change

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Andrea's family
By Ulrik Pedersen
12 Mar 2014

Andrea is eating lunch with her mother and her father. She says she doesn't know if she will stay in Pungesti when she grows older. She thinks there is no future in Pungesti if Chevron continues its fracking activities because it will destroy the area's natural resources. The majority of villagers in Pungesti are farmers who depend on agriculture to survive.

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Andrea's family
By Ulrik Pedersen
12 Mar 2014

Andrea is eating lunch with her mother and her father. They took part in protests against Chevron. Police officers are constantly patrolling outside their house.

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Teenagers on the main square
By Ulrik Pedersen
11 Mar 2014

Two teenagers sitting on the main square, in front of a local shop. Unemployment is a plague in Pungesti. Most people have nothing to do besides hanging out around the bar and shops.

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Carriage
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

A man on a carriage going through the village's main square. Pungesti is one of Romania's poorest villages. It lacks basic infrastructures such as paved roads.

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Children playing
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

Two girls playing on the village's main road which also passes by Chevron's compound. Pungesti, Romania.

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Youth's hopeless future
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

Pungesti's villagers say environmental impact of fracking is jeopodizing the future of villages like Pungesti. Many young people are already forced to leave the village and go to Western Romania to find work.

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Pungesti child
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

Lack of opportunities and poverty is forcing the youth to leave Pungesti. Even education is difficult to access. Children who want to pursue their education after 9th grade are forced to go to school loated 37 kilometers away from Pungesti.

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angry man
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

This poor farmer says there is no point in fighting Chevron and the Romanian government because Pungesti's resident will remain poor no matter what happens.

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Pungesti's elderly
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

A poor elderly sitting in his small room. The man says the mayor burned down his house after he got in a fight with his father. Residents of Pungesti accuse the village's mayor of corruption.

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Youth unemployment
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

Teenagers hanging out in the main square. Unemployment forces youth to either leave Pungesti, work with their family or apply for jobs at Chevron.

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Farmer
By Ulrik Pedersen
10 Mar 2014

A farmer on haystack. Most people in Pungesti are farmers and rely on agriculture to survive. They say they oppose Chevron because they were not given enough information about the company's activities. They also fear that fracking will lead to health problems, water and air pollution and deforestation.

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Pungesti , Romania 2014
Pungesti
By Laura Chiaroni
10 Mar 2014

The entrance to the Chevron shale gas extraction site in Pungesti, eastern Romania. On the 7th of December, during some violent protests against fracking, the fences of the platform were totally destroyed by the population. Since that day, the Romanian government led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta, declared the area a special security zone. This decision entails a constant presence of the Gendarmerie on site and restricted access to the village.

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Man with horses
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A man with his horses on the main street of Pungesti. The village is one of the poorest in Romanian. It lacks basic infrastructures like paved roads. Horses remain the main means of transportation.

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Organizing the protests
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A man is motivating other protesters before going to Chevron's compound to demonstrate. There is no actual leader, but some people are more active than others and try to encourage people from the village to keep fighting for the cause.

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The activists' headquarter
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

The activists' headquarters from where they organize their protests. At first, activists stayed in tent camps around Chevron's compound. They move to this house when the winter came. Hundreds of activists from all across the country flocked to Pungesti to supports the villagers' fight, but they all left to go back to their hometowns. Only one activist from Bucharest remains in the village now.

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Romanian flag
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A Romanian flag hung in a three. Similar flags and signs saying "Chevron go out" or "No Fracking in Pungesti" have been hung across Pungesti and the surrounding villages to protest against' Chevron's fracking activities in the area. Pungesti, Romania.

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Horseriding
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A man scouting the area around Chevron's compound. Horses are still the main means of transportation in Pungesti.

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Police filming protesters
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

Police filming protesters. Activists often post videos on social media to raise awareness about their cause. As a result, the police also started filming the protests in case protesters accuse them of brutality.

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Gendarmerie
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A police officer observing villagers protesting against Chevron's fracking activities in the area. Pungesti is one of the poorest villages in Romania but its people have been standing up against the US giant corporation Chevron for months.

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Encounter
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A protester is trying to provoke a police officer from the gendarmerie. Both parties constantly try to provoke each other to justify their presence and actions.

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Villagers gathering
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

Villagers discussing Chevron's activities. Residents and farmers of Pungesti are determined to keep fighting against Chevron's exploitation of their land.

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Villagers Gathering
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

Men from the village often gather to discuss issues and strategies related to Chevron's activities in the area.

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Horseriding
By Ulrik Pedersen
09 Mar 2014

A carriage on a muddy road in Pungesti. Pungesti is one of Romania's poorest villages. It lacks basic infrastructures. Only the village's main road is paved.

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Pungesti village
By Ulrik Pedersen
08 Mar 2014

Pungesti is a typical Romanian village, with a church, a bar and a small bank and post office. Pungesti, Romania. Unemployment and poverty is forcing young people to leave the village.

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Children playing
By Ulrik Pedersen
08 Mar 2014

Children playing football in front of the fields used by local farmers and also located next to Chevron's compound.

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Chevron's guards
By Ulrik Pedersen
08 Mar 2014

Chevron guard signaling demonstrators to back up from Chevron's compound in Pungesti. Guards are well equipped with helmet, shin pads and glasses. Many residents were injured by guards and the riot police in protests that turned violent.

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Pungesti: The village that said no
pungesti, romania
By Ulrik Pedersen
06 Mar 2014

The villagers of Pungesti, Romania are unlikely eco-activists. The tiny village garnered worldwide attention in October 2013 when villagers started protesting against US energy giant Chevron's fracking activities in their village. Hundreds of activists from across the country also flocked to the Pungesti to support the residents in their fight. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, consists of pumping chemicals at high pressure into deep rock to extract oil or gas. The village's inhabitants, most of whom are elderly farmers who rely on agriculture to survive, are worried fracking could damage the local environment by contaminating their land and ground water. They say fracking will lead to health problems, air pollution and deforestation. Following the protests, police and gendarmerie increased their presence in the village and many residents were subsequently injured in protests that turned violent.

In 2010, the Romanian Government quietly allowed fracking operations to commence by signing an agreement with Chevron, giving it access to more than two million acres of land in Romania. The villagers managed to collect over a thousand signatures from a population of 3,300 for a petition demanding the dismissal of the mayor, who they accuse of corruption. However, the Romanian government disregarded the petition and the mayor remains in office.

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Paltinis, Romania 2014
paltinis
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Mar 2014

A child holds a lamb in front of his house. Paltinis, a small village in the Vaslui region, is mainly populated by Gypsies, a community entirely devoted to agriculture and livestock farming. Chevron has planned to explore shale gas and start its second Romanian fracking site in the village.

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Silistea, Romania 2014
Silistea, Romania
By Laura Chiaroni
01 Mar 2014

Alexandru shares a small house with a group of anti-fracking protesters. The house is located near the drilling platform and since last January it has become the Resistance of Pungesti headquarters.