We tried to explore women’s piloting of new technologies to confront climate change – without losing our own shade of green.
HANDS ON: women, climate, change is a collaborative documentary project about women and climate change that I produced with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT).
The project involved five women directors across four countries in our network: Norway, Kenya, India and Canada. Each of us chose a female protagonist who is active in dealing with gender and a changing climate.
Five women, four strategies
As the executive producer of the project, the challenge I posed to our team was: How can we develop a project to help audiences understand the intersections between women, climate science and strategies for change? To address this challenge, I organized the production around four guiding priorities.
First of all, I knew that we needed to represent the international scope of the problem but we also needed to ground these issues in very tangible, hands-on actions. A critical element when conveying the complex issues involved in climate science is to offer examples of people responding to long-term challenges in both individual and collective forms.
Secondly, we needed to involve and represent those who are most impacted; women around the world are on the frontline of climate change and yet very few women are featured in the media as proactive protagonists.
Thirdly, we needed to involve young communicators and to encourage more of our IAWRT members to take on this issue in their respective places of work.
Finally, we needed to be “hands on” and keep our production model as green as possible. We didn’t want to create a huge carbon footprint while making a film about women and climate change.
Balancing it all out
The guidelines were great in principle but we faced a range of challenges in carrying them out. For example, how do you merge different contexts, perspectives, narrative modes and aesthetics into one coherent whole? How do you strike the right balance between science and storytelling?
And how might our production process serve as a model for the kinds of carbon conscious productions we hoped to inspire?
I have a background in participatory media, so I was ready for the complications that arise when attempting to coordinate perspectives and stories across competing aesthetics, formats, and even languages. While frustrating at times, I have discovered that collaborative projects ultimately expand the reach of a project.
Local directors know the local landscapes, languages and the stories that need to be told and they have networks to get the story out once its finished. In our case, five directors meant five times more outreach to audiences around the world.
Science through personal stories
It was challenging to integrate adequate climate science within a short video profile. Our project focused largely on the social relationships around scientific research rather than the hard science itself, but we wanted to convey basic information about the causes and impacts of climate change.
One way that we integrated information into the project was through a series of animations. Each short profile begins with an animation that illustrates the unique threats taking place in each community.
For example, on the Indian coast, in the district of Pondicherry, small fishing communities are facing an increased frequency of storms and the short animation introduction shows the impacts of coastal storms. Following the animation, is a portrait of forty-year old Maheshwari, who has learned to read and interpret ocean satellite images and offers a daily announcement about wave heights and wind speeds to ensure the safety of struggling fisherman in her coastal community of Veerampattinam, India. Using new technologies and science to communicate risk, she has gained both confidence and status in her family and her community.
Another profile about the perils of melting ice in Northern Canada, features an animated caribou searching for berries in a changing climate and dangerous scenarios for local hunters encountering melting ice. This profile features José Gérin-Lajoie, a scientist developing research methods with Cree and Inuit communities in Quebec. Drawing on feminist participatory research methods, she is involving community members in a research center that was once considered “off limits” by the community. Her mandate is to explore methods of sharing knowledge and ensure that research initiatives to address climate change take into account those most impacted.
For each portrait, the animations aim to offer a broader framework and help connect otherwise disparate stories.
The tale is greener than the telling
Attempting to reduce our carbon footprint proved to be another complex challenge. On the one hand, collaborating with members in our network did provide the global reach we needed without excessive airplane travel. And each director tried, in her own way, to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the production.
I directed a segment about Jasmine Thomas, a young Cree woman who lives in the traditional territory of Saik'uz in British Colombia and is organizing against the expansion of the Enridge pipeline that delivers crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. Jasmine lives five thousand kilometers from my home and so I remotely collaborated with a cinematographer who lives in British Columbia to reduce my own carbon footprint.
Nonetheless, despite our best efforts, our green production was full of contradictions. In order to communicate and share our work with each other and the larger public, we have relied on servers and streaming media platforms that use tremendous amounts of energy.
How do we reconcile the fact that the same platforms we use to disseminate information about global warming are powered by a largely invisible network of computers, servers and overheated systems that require vast amounts of water and energy to cool them off?
Despite the imperfection of our collaborative green production model, it permitted us to draw on local and international networks to explore how women are piloting new technologies and methods to confront climate change. While solar powered video cameras and servers are not yet in place, we took a simple step forward in lessening the gap between information and action.