“Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our world.”
Even as politicians and global players become more concerned with their annual bonuses and the next election, climate change has become a pressing global challenge, perhaps one of the most significant we have to face in the years to come. No matter what theories and arguments are discussed, the effects of the melting ice caps have reached each and every country. The effects ranging from dramatic changes in weather conditions, some of which permanently, to mass immigration, are likely to increase over the years. As a global village, it is our moral obligation to make measures against climate change our priority, but sadly many people and nations have not heard the call.
Considering climate change and global warming have become topics in our daily news coverage and school curricula, there is a certain danger linked to the issue. Even if the images and graphs about natural catastrophes in Asia and people fleeing their home countries in Africa may concern us, for some they remain abstract. However, for Canadian director and curator Matthieu Rytz, the issue became apparent on a trip from Panama to Colombia. Upon visiting various archipelagos, he learned about people and places threatened by climate change very directly as heavy floods and storms endangered their culture, their livelihood and their survival in some cases. During this time he also got to know about the situation of Kiribati, a republic in the Pacific Ocean and part of Micronesia, as well as its people and their (now former) leaser President Anote Tong.
Eventually, Rytz’s time in Kiribati resulted in his first documentary titled “Anote’s Ark”. In a statement about the film he explains how the feelings of anger and powerlessness encouraged him to make the film. Given the ignorance people, politicians and companies display when it comes to dealing with climate issues, he decided to focus his attention on the fight of Anote Tong to create awareness for the issues of his country and Sermary Tiare, a mother of now seven children, whose story is shown as an example of so many of the residents of Kiribati. “Anote’s Ark” aims to show the consequences of climate change for the small country and its culture that is about to become extinct because of it.
Maybe one of the most powerful sequences of the film is right at the beginning when Rytz’ camera manages to create one of the first moments of irritation. Supported by additional coverage provided by Briar March, what the islands the Republic of Kiribati consists of are seen from a bird’s eye perspective, revealing a true paradise. The crystal-clear water, the palm trees and the omnipresent sound of ocean waves seem to be coming directly from a travel catalog, until the metaphorical rug is pulled from under the viewer’s feet. As Sermary talks to a friend of hers about her home being flooded, how she and her family had to escape the rising tide, and the danger of that escape, it begins to dawn on us this paradise is not what it seems to be. In fact, we are witnessing the last breaths of Kiribati before its drowning.
Following the principle of climate change being a human and a moral issue, focusing on a public figure like Tong as well as characters like Sermary is crucial to the film’s goal. While the latter struggles to make ends meet and eventually thinks of immigrating to New Zealand, the former tries to create international awareness for the issues of his country. The various scenes introducing measures such as building a sea wall or the Green Float concept (see link below) are both confident demonstrations of human cooperation and innovation as well as dead ends, in some degree. Tong and Sermary agree that with the end of Kiribati, their culture is irretrievably lost. In the end, perhaps a viewer will share the feeling of Rytz when he left Kiribati in 2014, a mixture of fury and helplessness.
However, as much as one would like to brand “Anote’s Ark” as pessimistic, the structure and characters of the film simply will not fully allow such a label. Unless we give in to these feelings, there is still hope, maybe not for Kiribati, but for us and our future generations. The image of Sermary meeting her family, crying as she holds her youngest in her arms, share a sense of obligation, a duty to “answer the call” as former US President Obama called it. In the end, how just our global village is will be decided by how it treats its weakest, those disadvantaged by our former shortcomings. As Anote Tong states, we have to understand this is not just about small islands, but it is about us, about our survival as a planet.
1) www.gofundme.com/sermaryfund, last accessed on: 10/21/2018
2) www.anotesark.com/, last accessed on: 10/21/2018
3) www.designbuild-network.com/projects/green-float/, last accessed on: 10/21/2018
This is a link to a fundraiser provided by the production company behind “Anote’s Ark”. It is about gathering money in order to provide an education for the children of Sermary Tiare, one of the film’s main characters who had to leave Kiribati for New Zealand: