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Update 2020/10/6
climate Change


By Suzanne Forcese

“Water is a visual motif throughout the film. Where, when and how it cycles through solid, liquid or evaporated form is central to living and dying on a climate-destabilized Earth. Too much, too little, with bad timing or in the wrong form or place, it has the power to kill. At the same time, it is the basis of life. Water cleanses, heals, inspires, soothes and quenches real and metaphoric thirst. Tears are water. Emotion flows like water. Unless it gets blocked. Damn. In this film, images of water and its movement in form, space and time is symbolic of life and death and the fragile space between the two.”
– Jennifer Abbott, filmmaker.

WATERTODAY had the pleasure of speaking with Sundance and Genie award-winning filmmaker, Jennifer Abbott in Vancouver where her most recent documentary, The Magnitude of All Things, premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and is running until October 7, 2020.

Unlike most documentaries that look at climate change through the scientific lens, Abbott, who has been making films about urgent social, political and environmental issues for 25 years, touches the profound gravity of climate breakdown, grazing a wound that is familiar to everyone. The intimate sorrows of loss and grief.

“I knew I wanted to make a film about climate change, given that climate change is literally changing the world the way we know it".

"Scientists raised the alarm bell thirty years ago but it wasn’t until I had that moment in the garden when I realized there is a whole other dimension that people aren’t talking about,” Abbott told WT.

Abbott’s “moment in the garden” is captured at the beginning of the film.

“This is how I remember it beginning. It was the middle of a hot dry summer. There’s a light breeze. The sky is a dramatic orange. And it’s snowing. Except it isn’t snow at all. It’s ash from a distant forest fire fuelled by climate change. I’m not sure what surprised me more…that ash falling with careless grace or the feeling that rose up in me as it fell. It was grief. I knew it well. And this time it was for the changing world all around me.”

An image of an icicle melting is paralleled with an IV drip as Abbott takes us inside her own open wound. When Abbott lost her sister to cancer, her sorrow opened her up to the profound gravity of climate breakdown.

The Magnitude of All Things draws intimate parallels between the experiences of grief – both personal and planetary.

“When I first started this project six years ago about ecological grief, very few people understood what I was talking about. But if we aren’t going to have the conversation; if we don’t come to terms with it, we aren’t going to do anything about it,” Abbott continues.

“With the pandemic we are grieving for what was. We want normalcy again. And so it is with climate change. We are grieving for a world that was.”

The cinematic journey is a montage of stories from around the world kaleidoscoping with recollections from Abbott’s childhood on Georgia Bay with her sister Saille ( the two sisters are played by Abbott’s own twin daughters).

We witness a planet in crisis: from Australia’s catastrophic fires and dying Great Barrier Reef, to the island nation of Kiribati, drowned by rising sea levels. In Nunatsiavut, melting ice permanently alters the landscape, while in the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous people fight a desperate battle against oil and mining extraction.

For the people featured, climate change is not happening in the distant future; it is kicking down the front door, flooding homes, poisoning water and destroying communities.

The losses associated with climate change are universal. The global stories evoke the same raw emotions.

The connection between humanity and the environment is stated plainly by Australia’s Wonnarua Traditional Custodians: “If this land hurts, we hurt.”

Like ash from the distant fire that erupted in Abbott’s own emotional response, grief on this global scale touches everything. The film goes on to show that when hope is lost, the real work begins.

Members of Extinction Rebellion protest in the streets, risking arrest. Greta Thunberg’s school strike grows from a solitary vigil to a mass movement and we see – perhaps for the first time-- her most poignant public expression of climate grief that is at the core of her campaigns. The Sapara, Wonnarua and Nunatsiavut land defenders hold the line in a life and death struggle.

Saille’s letters to friends and family are voiced over the global stories. Facing death inspires Saille to savour life. As Abbott weaves memories of her sister throughout the film, her message is clear. Being at peace with the world comes with the responsibility to save it. “Feelings of grief are normal,” Abbott told WT. “But those difficult feelings can transform people to fire up change.” Abbott is now working on a toolkit to deal with grief. “There are now a lot of organizations and psychologists who are identifying ecological grief. We will have resources and support systems available on our website soon.”

“We have to go to our deepest fears in climate change and go forward and challenge the system. Our collective denial of the climate crisis is mirrored in our culture’s tendency to deny death. We have to join together collectively.”

Abbott’s film The Corporation and her latest film co-directed with Joel Bakan, The New Corporation challenge audiences to “look at the system that is creating this catastrophe. It’s not too late.”

The Magnitude of All Things screens at Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival Oct 14-18 Watch the trailer


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