Monday, April 18, 2016

Documentaries on Climate Change and Hope

Between doing research for this blog and Reel Inspiration, Dan and I have seen a plethora of films on climate change. Recently we watched “This Changes Everything,” screened as part of the Social Justice series held at the Loft Cinema. In the opening, narrator Stacey Raab admitted that she didn’t want to make another climate change documentary with polar bears. I found her doc in turns infuriating and inspiring. It was particularly painful to see conference attendees from the Heartland Institute (a think tank owned by the Koch brothers) cheering their success in convincing Americans that there was no global warming. But I loved the overall theme that we could rewrite our story. We don’t have to continue the narrative of profit at all cost. We can work together to take care of each other and the planet.

The film shared powerful stories of people from all over the world uniting to do just that. Members of the first peoples of Alberta, Canada investigated a pipeline oil spill on their ancestral hunting lands. Indigenous people were studying up on the law in order to better fight for their rights. They were even installing their own solar panels. The movie demonstrated how much power people have when they stand together. Villagers in India succeeded in stopping a coal-fired power plant from being built in their backyard by using their bodies to block anyone from the power company from entering their village. People from around the world are now successfully using this ploy. This is the kind of message that people can get behind – one of hope.

Friday night at the Arizona International Film Festival, we had the pleasure of seeing “The Anthropologist.” One of the great things about attending a film festival is hearing the filmmakers illuminate us on their process and what inspired their projects. Director Seth Kramer also commented on how he didn’t want to make yet another climate change movie with polar bears and scientists explaining the greenhouse effect. Fortunately, the National Science Foundation sponsored the project based on the angle of an anthropologist studying the effect of climate change on people.

Compared with other environmental docs I’ve seen, this is a light-hearted romp. It stars a squabbling mother (Mary Bateson) and daughter (Susie Crate.) Susie is your typical American teenager. She doesn’t understand why she has to go with her mom to third world countries when she just wants to stay at home and hang out with friends. The film also featured segments with legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead’s now adult daughter about what life was like growing up in the field. It was included to explore how Susie might turn out.

As audience members we might relate to her discomfort of being dragged along on physically challenging trips to witness communities suffering from the effects of climate change, while being very aware of the great opportunity it is to see breath-taking scenery and colorful cultures.

Their first trip is a sort of family reunion with Susie’s relatives on her father’s side in Siberia. (Her mom met her father while working there as a young anthropologist.) We soon discover that Susie knows the language. In fact, she has a keen ear for languages and blatantly expresses her embarrassment when her mother struggles to communicate. We watch this teen grow as she sees firsthand how climate change is affecting that part of her family. The permafrost has melted causing the ground to turn to mush. The hay they need to feed their cows (their main source of food) has died as well as the trees. The change in Susie is especially evident when they return home and she visits with her friends. You can see it in her eyes as one of her friends says she doesn’t know if she believes in climate change because her father says it isn’t true.

After witnessing the devastation on island villages in the South Pacific being bombarded by the rising sea or the impact of glaciers melting in Peru, it’s hard not to believe in climate change. Traveling along with an anthropologist, we got a glimpse of the effect on the indigenous people, their cultures, and communities. What we learned about people left us with hope. People are durable and capable of change, and will find a way to adapt.

Both of these movies express hope for the people who inhabit this planet that we call home. “The Anthropologist” shows how people are capable of change and “This Changes Everything” shows how we can change our story to one where we unite to save it.

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