I first saw Climate Refugees advertised a few years ago and finally had the opportunity to watch it today. My first impression upon picking up the DVD at the library was that it had won a lot of awards: Official Selection at Sundance, the Los Angeles Film Festival, Cannes and Woods Hole Film Festivals. However, just because a film has won awards does not mean it was well shot or that it tells a story in the most interesting way. In the case of Climate Refugees, there was a lot of great content, but no clear story arc. In that way, it felt a lot like An Inconvenient Truth.
The film opens with shots of earth from space, including shots of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the wildfires in Southern California. When the narrator/director began to describe the 18-month journey taken to create the film, I got suspicious. More and more, I am leaning away from narration in films. Climate Refugees was a great example of both the good and the bad side to this story-telling technique.
Sometimes the director was able to relate a story that the camera did not catch on film. For instance, he talked about a young boy who had asked whether the United States would save his country, Bangladesh, from disappearing. He also told the viewer about a conversation he overhead between his crew members. The team was discussing whether it would be better for climate change to be caused by humans or by natural forces. They decided it would be better if it were caused by humans because then something could be done to stop it. He then used this as a transition into the section on what we can do to stop climate change.
On the other hand, because the director comes into the film at irregular interviews, his voice was often jarring and distracting. His choice to put himself on camera also did not work for me. It felt random and he did not appear again at any other time in the film.
Nash does a great job obtaining a wide variety of interviews. He speaks with Newt Gingrich, representatives from the IPCC and the UN, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, a Stanford Professor and many more people. I believe this makes the movie relatable to many different demographics. And, because each person essentially says the same thing, it makes a convincing case that climate change is happening and that there will be serious consequences for humans.
This brings me to another point. From the beginning, Nash does not point a finger at humans as the cause of global warming. Even though climate change is scientifically proven to be caused by human-produced greenhouse gases, he keeps the option of natural forces as a possibility. While this is lying to the audience in a sense, it also makes the film more accessible for climate change skeptics. There are a surprising number of people in the United States who still believe climate change is a hoax or that humans are not causing it. If Nash’s approach encourages these people to watch the film, I support his choice to frame climate change in this way.
My most serious critique for the film is that Nash does not make individuals’ stories the focal point. He spent a year and a half filming in Africa, North America and Asia, which meant he certainly had enough time to find the people who truly embody the ideas he wanted to portray. Had he chosen to feature personal stories, the audience could have built an emotional attachment with the characters and taken away deeper emotions and lessons from the film. Instead, the film is too full of talking heads. A lot of people do cry on camera, but because these are people you never come to know, it feels almost like Nash is using them, rather than like he has a genuine interest in these people and the lessons we must take away from their stories.