If the Hebrides International Film Festival does anything this year, it will hopefully “make us pause for a minute and think about what we are doing to the planet and the island”.

That was the message from film festival curator Muriel Ann Macleod on today’s opening day of the festival (Wednesday, September 19).

The fifth Hebrides International Film Festival is taking place in venues throughout the Outer Hebrides from now until Saturday (September 22) – and Muriel Ann said it raised “important questions locally”, such as whether we were “really doing enough to preserve the seas of the Hebrides”. 

Muriel Ann, director of the Rural Nations Community Interest Company, was speaking from Brussels, where she is representing the Outer Hebrides as part of the Reclaim the Future project, part-funded by Creative Europe.

She said: “I’ve brought our short exhibition environmental film Eve v Lucy and the Harris Carnival banner representing the islands. But of course I’d rather be in Lewis for the opening of HIFF on Wednesday night. I’m really pleased with the festival.

“This year we engage with cultural diversity with films like Lerd – A Man of Integrity, as well as strong environmental films like Blue and A River Below, with questions asked around the importance of the environment next to big business and the driver to make money.

“These are important questions locally. How many wind farms do we need when we could have solar farms or wave power?

“If the film festival does anything this year, perhaps it will make us pause and think for a minute about what we are doing to the planet and to the island.”

Three big wind farm schemes are planned for the Isle of Lewis – the Forsa development at Tolsta and Lewis Wind Power’s Stornoway Wind Farm project and Uisenis scheme in Eishken. Lewis Wind Power is part-owned by French multinational EDF Energy and wants to be allowed to site offshore-sized turbines on land on Lewis.

The core of this year’s film festival is the screening of current environmental documentary features such as Blue, which has been described by Greenpeace as “a cinematic song for our oceans”. It was filmed in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Pacific and United States.

Similarly, A Plastic Ocean was shot over four years at 20 locations across the planet and shines a light on the plastic pollution crisis.

However, environmental questions relating to land also get the HIFF treatment, with Lerd – A Man of Integrity opening the film festival tonight in An Lanntair.

Lerd, which won the Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival, is about a gold fish farmer in a village in northern Iran, whose attempts to make an honest living come up against a corrupt system, where money and power beat environmental concerns. 

The fish farmer finds out his neighbour has poisoned the water in a bid to get control of his land.

Muriel Ann said: “He wants to have something done about this but you learn that the whole society works on bribes and there’s nothing he can do. It makes you reflect on your own society in a way. It shows that in small communities local people have no real say in how to control things…

“I thought it was interesting because of how unimportant the environmental issue was. It was about who owned what and who was making money.”

All the films on the Hebrides International Film Festival have been chosen because “they are the best from current world cinema”, having been made within the last three years. Many are award winners and all are high quality.

There are approximately 26 feature films on the programme and there will be a total of 56 screenings across the venues over the four days, with each screening including a feature film and an accompanying short.

There are around 13 ‘shorts’ on the programme including Cianalas, by young Hebridean Zoe Paterson Macinnes, and MS, Mexico and Me which tells the story of Aileen Hunt who travelled from her home in Uig to Mexico for stem cell treatment, in a bid to halt the progression of multiple sclerosis.

The Hebrides International Film Festival is supported by Creative Scotland, HIE and other agencies and presented in collaboration with An Lanntair.

The festival has a broad theme of “islands, environmental issues and indigenous peoples” and a particular focus on the “ocean” theme this year, although it always includes a variety of genres, so there is art, comedy and children’s film as well as drama and documentary. 

The programme is available online at www.hebfilmfestival.org.

Tickets can also be bought through the website by following the links to the Eventbrite marketplace or, for festival films that are being shown at An Lanntair, they are available at lanntair.com.

An Lanntair also have a series of free films on in their Pocket Cinema. 

Tickets can also be bought at venue doors, although it is advisable to book in advance for the smaller venues, where space is more limited.

Tickets are priced £7 adults, £5 concession and £4 for under-16s, with a season ticket for £50 which allows entry to everything.