Climate Change Goes to the Movies

February 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sister Grail member Joy Garland and I went to the IFC, the film center on lower Sixth Avenue in Manhattan yesterday, to see three short documentaries that have been nominated for an Academy Award this year. I’m  really glad we did.

The first of the films, KILLING IN THE NAME, is the story of a Muslim man, Ashraf Al-Khaled  whose wedding ceremony in a hotel used by Westerners was blown up by an Al Qaeda suicide bomber, resulting in the deaths of 27 members of his family, including his and new wife’s fathers. The film follows Ashraf’s efforts to convince Muslims around the world that killing other Muslims does not qualify as Jihad. I was particularly moved by the segment in which he debates with teenage boys in a Muslim school in (I believe) Indonesia. It’s not clear that he convinces them, but clearly, this is the kind of courage the world needs if we’re to stop killing one another.

But I was much more taken with the other two films, which address the pressing and linked issues of the world water shortage and climate change. I am greatly encouraged that such films are up for an Academy Award. May we all be showing them in our church basements and community centers soon!

The first is the exquisitely beautiful SUN COMES UP, which follows the relocation of a group of indigenous people in the south Pacific from their island home to the nearby Bougainville section of Papua New Guinea. The Carterets may be the first climate refugees most Americans will ever meet—their islands are being washed away by rising sea water—though they surely won’t be the last; estimates have it that various aspects of climate change—rising tides, the desertification and salination of fields, and floods—will produce as many as 100 million climate refugees by 2050. Viewers learn about the particular effects of climate change that are driving the Carterets off their island home. But the primary value of the film, I think, is that it presents us with some real and deeply inspiring human beings as they confront this horrific situation. The shots of faces, of people dancing, of the residents of Papua New Guinea welcoming the Carterets into their community, all of this brings home to us what will be lost if, by ignoring the reality of climate change,  we allow millions of human beings to be washed away or die of starvation or thirst.

If SUN COMES UP fights climate change with its sheer beauty, THE WARRIORS OF QIUGANG attacks the world water shortage and related environmental harm head on, documenting the refusal of the residents of a Chinese village to let a chemical company continue to destroy their land and water. The film focuses on a deeply appealing farmer, Zhang Gongli. When Zhang’s fields become so poisoned he can no longer farm them, he teaches himself enough law to sue the chemical company that has caused the pollution, not once, but twice, losing both times. Eventually, though, he organizes the villagers and they force the government to close the factory. If you need to find some hope for the struggle, watch this movie. If you need to be reminded of the horrific impact of chemical contaminants on earth, water, and people, watch this movie.

As with all films, a few quibbles trail along behind. For one thing, in the case of the Carteret Islanders, it’s hard not to wonder what the survival expectations are for the section of  Papua New Guinea to which they are relocating. At least it’s inland, but it’s hard to imagine that that’s the last we’ll be hearing about climate refugees in Papua New Guinea. And toward the end, THE WARRIORS OF QIUGANG raises its own question: will the government prevent the chemical company from doing the same harm to the area where it has moved (5 miles away) as it did to Quigang? Maybe Zhong Gongli will ride over there and fill the neighboring villagers in.

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