No film cop-outs at COP26

Timely and powerful, 'The Salt in Our Waters' and 'Nuclear Forever' are among the many being screened at the climate change conference

November 05, 2021 02:06 pm | Updated November 09, 2021 10:50 am IST

A still from ‘The Salt In Our Waters’

A still from ‘The Salt In Our Waters’

There have been plenty of cop-outs at COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate change conference currently taking place in Glasgow, including some countries revealing net zero targets 30 to 40 years after the globally-agreed date of 2030 and others paying lip service to the event’s theme while actively encouraging fossil fuels. However, on the film and television front matters are much better.

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The event began with environmental doyen Sir David Attenborough unveiling his BBC series, The Green Planet, at a gala IMAX screening, with Game of Thrones star and environmental advocate Maisie Williams delivering the opening address.

“I want to challenge you to open your eyes and not just look but see the green planet around us,” Williams said. “As humans, we are hardwired to prioritise animals over plants. It is an informally-proposed form of cognitive bias called ‘plant blindness’. But plants are vital for our survival on this planet. The more we distance ourselves from our greatest allies, the more trouble we are in. I hope that The Green Planet helps change the conversation and makes each of us stop, look, and see the world through a new green lens.”

Running as part of the conference is a series of screenings that are very relevant today. Less than three years ago Bangladeshi filmmaker Rezwan Shahriar Sumit shot festival favourite film The Salt in Our Waters in a fishing village. That village has now disappeared due to erosion and rising water. Sumit is in Glasgow to present the film to the conference. Emily Munro’s Living Proof: A Climate Story explores Scotland’s relationship to the global climate crisis through archive footage. In 2040 , filmmaker Damon Gameau is in quest of climate solutions that may lead to a better world for his daughter in the titular year, while Erlend E Mo’s Journey to Utopia follows his family’s move to Permatopia — a self-sufficient, organic farming cooperative in Denmark.

Mo’s film is part of the annual UK Green Film Festival, which this year coincides with the COP26 conference. Other films featured include Jim Rakete’s Now that follows a new generation of activists concerned about social change and also features the voices of veteran protesters Wim Wenders and Patti Smith; Monica Lazurean-Gorgan, Michaela Kirst and Ebba Sinzinger’s Wood that takes a look at the illegal logging industry; Carsten Rau’s Nuclear Forever that explores the fallout of nuclear power; and Sylvia Vollenhoven and Fredrik Gertten’s Jozi Gold , which follows Mariette Liefferink as she examines the environmental disaster in Johannesburg as the gold mines there fall apart. 519 Films has also announced the world premiere of their new feature documentary, A Cure for the Common Classroom , at the Conference.

It’s all very well to watch a few films, feel perturbed and then go right back to doing nothing at all, so the Sky broadcasting network has the beginnings of a solution. Going forward, Sky programmes will encourage viewers to change their habits and take action via on-air content, as images beamed into people’s homes are extremely powerful. Meanwhile, 12 of the UK’s biggest broadcasters, including BBC and ITV, have signed a climate pledge designed to help audiences “understand what tackling climate change might mean for them, as well as inspire and inform sustainable choices”. In the meantime, if you can get hold of it, do watch Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky’s Anthropocene: The Human Epoch that charts the devastating impact we humans have made on this planet.

As Attenborough said in Glasgow: “The green ecosystem is at the heart of all life on Earth and thus it’s vital that we tackle biodiversity and climate change together.”

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