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How young filmmakers are brining Climate Change discussion to mainstream

Ever heard of the quote, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. Well everyone has but did you know that several studies claim that a video is with at least a million if not more. You might be wondering what this has to do with sustainability. Maybe, not directly but let me paint a picture on the impact of videos on society.

It has been well established through scientific experiments and common sense that Earth has somewhat a spherical shape and moves around our star or as we know it as simply : Sun. Here’s the issue, there is a vast majority that does not believe in this, we call them flat earthers. In fact, a recent survey concluded that there are 16% of US citizens that are open flat earthers. Interesting thing to know is that this number was way… way low before the penetration of the internet and more importantly the Youtube. Yes you heard it right, youtube videos have helped to increase the number of flat earthers. Like I said, a video speaks a million words if not more.

Just like the ‘flat earth’ conspiracy, there is a huge movement on the internet against climate change or popularly known as climate change denier. Most of these individuals or organizations are either funded or employed through industries (for example coal and thermal energy plants) that have been reluctant in changing their strategy towards climate change mitigation.

Why do videos have a larger impact?

Oftentimes I have seen on the internet forums blaming the general population of not believing in scientists when they have done intensive research on the topic. Various research on communication and strategy have indicated the problem that the reports prepared by intergovernmental agencies and research papers written by scientists are often too complicated for the people who do not have a higher advanced degree in that area or have been working in the said area for a long time. Additionally, such reports and papers (for all the right reasons) are pretty long in nature ranging from 40 pages minimum to 500 pages even. This issue was so widespread and dangerous that in recent decades ‘Science Communication’ as a new branch of research has risen. These science communicators were trained to write the complicated and overwhelming research into much simpler language without any distortion of facts. These could be done through small essays, articles such as this one, comics, memes and satire. The popularity of science communication can be valued that the scientists that are popular in general population such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, APJ Abdul Kalam, Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, Richard Dawkins and even Stephen Hawking have never on the prestigious Nobel Prize and even Nobel Prize winners are not known.

All this was going great and then came the platforms like Youtube, dailymotion and likes and everything went haywire. While these platforms have certainly helped the society, we can't deny the fact that these platforms helped the climate deniers a chance to spread the conspiracy against human induced or anthropogenic climate change. Science communicators now had a new challenge. While climate change deniers could show misleading facts and animations, ethics disallow science communicators for doing the same. Moreover, convincing visually was a big challenge for everyone.

Well the situation is not all gloomy as science finds its way as always. It all started with Nobel Prize Peace winner IPCC’s co-founder Al Gore when he produced the brilliant documentary on global warming called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Aside from the terrifying nature of the ill effects of global warming, the reason why it was loved by millions on the planet was simple visual representation of the fact. The gloomy doom of global warming was some doomsday in the future inscribed on paper. Intangible. The documentary made it real, with real people getting affected, real locations and the urgency which with speakers spoke about the issues. It didn't seem like a date in the future. It was now.

Available on Amazon Prime

The documentary paved the way for young filmmakers to chronicle climate change from various angles and experiences. Climate Change did not have a single cause so how could the stories be the same, how could the solutions be the same.

‘True Cost’ in 2015 went into the backdrop of fast fashion brands detailing the exploitation of environmental and social (read : human) factors in developing economies such as India, Bangladesh and Cambodia which not only made companies accountable and transparent about their process but also informed consumers about the indirect harm they caused. This led to outgrowth of the slow fashion movement and sustainable brands in both developing and developed economies.

Availableon TrueCost & TubiTv

Similarly, now viewed over 17 Million times on just Youtube alone; Refinery29’s documentary on fashion industry and mica mining in India (titled - The Dark Secret Behind Your Favorite Makeup Products) sent huge shockwaves among customers and corporations alike. It talked about the consequences of human ignorance towards sustainable sourcing practices. An executive is only responsible for putting out a RFQ (request For Proposals) from his 17th floor office in New York and is completely unaware about how the raw materials reach the company’s Long Island warehouse. The 11 year old child in the documentary working in a dangerous mine and uttered the words “If I weren't mining, I would be starving” is enough to send chills down your spine.

Available on Youtube (Free)

From an environmental perspective the 2005 award winning documentary ‘Racing Extinction’ takes us around South East Asia and Japan’s huge whaling industry (yes, in the 21st century whale hunting is still legal). The chilling visuals of underground exotic meat industry catered around the 0.5%ers, the escape from pirates, the attacks on whales, manta rays and stingrays will lead you to questioning human's place on Earth. Another interesting aspect of the movie was using special cameras to see Greenhouse Gas Emissions (invisible from naked eyes) in real life, live on screen. A true ethereal experience. After all, seeing is believing.

Available on Hulu

A 2012 documentary by filmmaker Candida Brady aptly named ‘Trashed’ starred 1991 best actor Oscar (Academy Awards) winner Jeremy Irons won several accolades across the globe from Europe to US to Japan. The documentary chronicled Irons to look at the consumer supply chain or life cycle of various products that we use in everyday life and what happens after the use. It focussed on NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Backyard) of various people who were tired and afflicted with various issues due to improper or inadequate waste disposal. If you have ever lived or traveled on Ghaziabad highway or Eastern Expressway in Mumbai, you could see huge mountains circled by vultures and eagles. The mountains of trash.

Available on Prime Video

There are a lot of documentaries over the years which were not just a reality check for corporations and consumers but also progressed climate change awareness through brilliant storytelling and visualistic representation of facts. Some of the other features include : RiverBlue in 2016, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in 2014, Before the Flood in 2016, Our Planet in 2019, This Changes Everything in 2015, 2040 in 2019 among other gems.

Is its use case limited?

I was having a conversation with a CSR manager of a top 500 public listed firms a few years back on how they were able to do various initiatives that benefited the underprivileged external stakeholders, even garnered an award from state government and Mumbai based headquarters but the general population (in his case, his friends in metro cities, his extended family and customers he interacted) were not aware of its achievements. They even talked about the beautiful CSR Report detailing the initiatives. But that did not get any traction. They even confided that not even employees of the company have read it. I could not confess that even I did not !

That's how corporates across India are still failing behind the nerve of the population to watch videos rather than going through reports (not discounting the importance of reports, though). Zomato very recently has started doing this and it seems they are on the right track. It's not that corporations do not understand the importance of visual representation, that can be seen clearly with the amount of money spent on insider marketing, influencer marketing and ads. The idea needs to be extended to sustainability initiatives of the company. Do not forget that the most popular documentaries and even movies are human stories, something which directly links to sustainability. Of course, there is a need for caution, the visual journey should not present any false or misleading facts or an ad but a genuine attempt to speak their truth and work in a language we most understand.


If you want to uncomplicate the process, we at Sustainify can help you with the script, the path you need to take and the right people who can help you shoot the best of the best you have done. Feel free to reach out to our experts.

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