10 Inspiring Climate Films Win Action4Climate Documentary Competition
The $15,000 top prize, in the 18 - 35 age category, went to the Portuguese filmmaker Gonçalo Tocha for his film The Trail of a Tale. This documentary revolves around a letter written in the future to society today.
The nearly four-minute short film is captivating as the narrator tells us, the stranger, how things went right. Society gathered with a fundamental belief that the “purpose of the economic system is to improve the well-being for all within the limits of what the planet can sustain … We had to deal with overconsumption first. The prices we paid for things had to reflect the social and environmental costs…”
See the brilliance of this film for yourself by watching it here:
I had the chance to interview filmmaker Gonçalo Tocha about his award-winning documentary.
Q. How long have you been making films?
I started in 2000, at the University of Lisbon, with a video collective. I learned by myself and by watching others filming. During those years I was testing and experimenting with various formats. Just in 2007 I adventured myself in making a feature film.
Q. What made you interested in filmmaking?
First my love for watching films, and then the possibilities that cinema has to enlarge life and to make people greater than real life.
Q. What were the biggest challenges to producing your film? What was the most rewarding part?
The biggest challenge was to think of the right images to communicate a clear message. Something important was to be said. Words are losing sense and there are just too many images nowadays, so in the end it is language that is losing meaning. In this way, the text was the beginning, and so that´s why we found a way to film the text, with the participation of the street artist ±MAISMENOS± (Miguel Januário). Only then came the music, the soundtrack and finally the other images.
Q. Climate change is impacting the world in a multitude of ways, and around the world people are continuously adapting and finding ways to make a positive impact. So there are a lot of different stories to tell. What made you interested in telling this one?
In this particular case I was invited by Imagine2020—Arts and Climate Change in association with the New Economics Foundation to make a short video inspired by the New Economic Foundation's report The Great Transition. It is a 100-page report talking about how things could work out right if we change society's paradigm of living, focusing on the prices of goods, on fair trade, the sustainable and especially the end of oil addiction. I was moved by it and instead of taking just one point of the report, I tried to condense its overall spirit to tell a tale of "how things actually worked out right," like a letter from someone in the future directed to us in our present/their past.
Do you think youth have more of an obligation to speak out on climate change than other age groups? Why or why not?
If youth had a voice yes, but normally who are heard are the older people. Who commands the economic and political destiny of our world are people who are at least 50 years old. The only solution is that my generation and the younger generations do not make the same mistakes.
Do you plan to make another film? If so, will the topic center on climate change or related environmental issues?
I took a little pause from filmmaking this year, but I plan to return soon to the archipelago of the Azores (where I made my two first films Balaou and It's the Earth not the Moon) to make a trilogy on these archipelago. Azores is composed of nine amazing Atlantic islands, between Europe and America. It is the homeland of my family, and so for me it is my perfect human and natural landscape to talk about the world.
What impact do you hope your film has on its viewers?
I am humble about its impact. It is just a simple film that does not intend to preach. Its images are open to multiple interpretations. We do not have to take the world for granted, as it is now. Let’s just imagine another solution. Let's be strong and poetic. Life is many things, including markets and economics, but why do we have to allow these two dimensions to rule our lives?
Other winners today include, Dobrin Kashavelov from Bulgaria who won second place and a cash prize of $10,000 with Global Warning, a harrowing film about the catastrophic effects on survivors of last year’s typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Third place and a $5,000 prize was awarded to American filmmaker Nathan Dappen for Snows of the Nile, a documentary following Dappen’s adventures uncovering indisputable evidence of the fast disappearing glaciers of Uganda’s "mountains of the moon."
“These talented young filmmakers connect to their audience in emotional and powerful ways about the dangers of climate change," said Jim Yong Kim, president, World Bank Group. "They have done serious, important work, which shows that climate change could result in a world that is unrecognizable today, and that we need act now to protect the planet for future generations.”
In the younger 14 -17 age group, The Violin Player took top spot. This beautifully animated film was the brainchild of Francina Ramos, a young Argentinian film maker and her co-producer/composer Benjamin Braceras. Second place went to Facing the Flood by Constantin Huet from Switzerland, an investigative account of the changing conditions in Greenland and the Maldives. Georgia’s Tura Tegerashivili was awarded third place for the whimsical It’s Easy if You Try.
“We were amazed by the originality of the stories and the genuine concern shown by these young film makers about the effects of climate change," said Bernardo Bertolucci, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning director. "They described the effects of climate change from hundreds of different points of view. Selecting winners was an almost impossible task."
The Action4Climate competition was launched in early 2014 by Connect4Climate, the global climate change communications program. All prize winners receive production equipment and software to help them hone their skills and talents and inspire them to create more climate change stories.
The general public was also engaged by voting online for the People’s Choice Prize. It was won by a team from Brazil for their film Pachamama depicting the effects of global warming in their home state of Sao Paulo.
“Connect4Climate was tremendously excited by the amount of interest shown in the competition from around the world," said Lucia Grenna, program manager, Connect4Climate. "It demonstrates the level of concern shown by creative young people and their desire to be involved directly in exposing climate problems and finding lasting solutions. We were also gratified to experience the seamless coming together of international organizations, the private sector and civil society to support and promote the competition.”
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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