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Inside the Climate Crisis Film Festival

The event in Glasgow showed how art can shine a light on the issues that are at the heart of our environmental catastrophe.

If COP26 had been a film, its ending was more frustrating and depressingly hollow than that of
No Time To Die.

On the final Friday at 6pm, while intense negotiations were ongoing in the Blue Zone, a couple of hundred metres away on the other side of the Clyde an awards ceremony for the Climate Crisis Film Festival was beginning.

These Oscars of the eco-world were taking place in Glasgow’s Science Centre – home to the second-tier, corporate-tinged Green Zone – and were the culmination of two weeks of in-person and virtual screenings.

While COP26 has been rightly criticised for excluding voices of those on the frontline, the CCFF projected them onto an IMAX screen.

The awards themselves were the first-ever environmental film awards open exclusively to filmmakers who are Black, indigenous, people of colour. The four shortlisted shorts came from wildly different
parts of the world, but each shone a spotlight on communities that find themselves on the frontline. 

Haulover, for example, is a curiously named town on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua. Last November, Hurricane Eta ravaged the town.

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Two weeks later, Hurricane Iota did the same.

In the months that followed, Alvaro Cantillano filmed residents as they decided whether to rebuild their homes from the rubble despite the increasing risk of extreme weather, or to relocate and restart their lives elsewhere.

The final shots of Haulover: Separated are gut-wrenching. Those who stayed behind silently congregate on the beach as towering dark clouds gather and a new storm approaches.

To Calm the Pig Inside deserves accolades for its title alone. In the Philippines, ‘buwa’ is a giant, mythological subterranean swine.

“When angry, they say the earth trembles,” says the young narrator of the film by Joanna Vasquez Arong, that reconciles legends and memories with the devastation wreaked by monsoons,  exploring how people cope with historical – or sudden – trauma.

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We can all hear the sea while holding a shell to our ear, but in Time and the Seashell characters can also connect to the past and the future. Mexican director Itandehui Jansen’s film sees a young boy imagining his future, and
an older man recalling his past while they listen to the same shell.

The top prize, winning the Ocean Bottle Film Award, was awarded to Hawaiian Soul, about the musician George Helm, who became a pioneering environmental activist in the 1970s.

For decades, the American military used the island of Kaho‘olawe for bombing practice. The film focuses on the moment Helm found his voice. In 1977 Helm disappeared while travelling to the island. Circumstances are still unexplained.

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Director Āina Paikai, beaming in from Hawaii, said: “We want to follow his lead, using the love we have in our culture to show and share with other folks what it means to have appreciation for a place.”

After the event, the audience checked their phones to see if, across the river, any deal had been struck. It would take another 24 hours for delegates to decide whether coal should be phased down or out.

Their time would have been better spent watching these films. Setting targets for decades away won’t help. For millions around the world, the climate emergency is not a hypothetical future but a reality right now.

The solutions aren’t secret, their implementation not impossible. So what’s the problem? Mark Decena, a filmmaker and activist from the US, perhaps summed up best the role and responsibility art has.

“We need all these forms of storytelling to make the change we need to see,” he said. “Not just a cart full of facts – a parade wagon of facts dressed as poetry and music and narrative drama and plays and podcasts. We need it all to create that emotional shift in consciousness.”

@stevenmackenzie

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