COP15 film festival

It’s not often that I get a chance to sit in a theatre with an audience while they’re watching one of the documentaries I produce at IFAD. On Friday 12 December, during COP15 in Copenhagen, I had that chance.

“The President’s Dilemma” – a television documentary we originally created for BBC World News in September – was screened at a film festival organized by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) as part of it’s “Development and Climate Days” side event.

The President’s Dilemma tells the story of Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati – a nation made up of 33 low-lying atoll islands in the middle of the Pacific Oceans. Climate scientists predict that much of Kiribati could be under water in as little as 30 years due to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Tong’s “dilemma” is to decide what to do with the country’s 108,000 residents and how quickly to act. He resists the idea of mass migration which he says would turn his people into “climate change refugees” but, at the same time, he realizes time is not on his side and that he needs to address immediate problems, like growing poverty and shrinking food supplies, as evironmental conditions worsen.

Programmed during a session that featured five films exploring the impact of rising sea levels on island states, my role was to introduce the film and then answer questions from the audience. The film was the last one in the session, following stories from Samoa and Tuvalu. The reaction was extremely positive and gratifying with more requests for DVD copies of the longer version of the film (the screening was of a shorten 10 minute version) than I had anticipated. The audience was made up of development practitioners, NGO and UN staff so the questions and discussion that followed was well informed and largely focused on issues around adaptation. In the case of Kiribati, that means introducing crops that can tolerate temperature increases and salt water intrusion, which is part of the work of an IFAD-supported agricultural research centre on the island Tarawa mentioned in the film.

The film festival runs over four days and provides delegates and media with respite from the chaos and crowds at the Bella Centre, the main COP15 venue a short metro ride away. For me personally, it was a great opportunity to get some feedback on IFAD films as well as to see first hand how powerful they can be in sharing experiences from remote regions, shaping ideas and provoking good discussion.

James Heer