Climate Refugees -- Film Review



As the number of severe weather-related disasters increases in frequency worldwide, the urgency of documentaries about climate change is rising as well. No longer content to simply present persuasive data models using PowerPoint as in "The Inconvenient Truth," films like "The Age of Stupid" and "Climate Refugees" are demonstrating the devastating relationships between contemporary natural catastrophes and the effects of global warming.

The challenge these films face is to illustrate the increasingly dire impacts of climate shifts while remaining focused and level-headed enough to convince viewers about the significance of the issue before disaster fatigue sets in. Unfortunately, a rather alarmist tone pervading "Climate Refugees" and a tendency toward repetitiveness compromise its message. The doc will nonetheless find a natural home on DVD with broadcast sales also possible.

Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Michael Nash travels around the world for 18 months "in search of the truth about our changing climate and the future of mankind," observing the impacts first-hand and the resulting displacement and migration of residents. In Bangladesh and the Tuvalu Islands of the South Pacific, intensifying storms and rising sea levels are already forcing people to relocate or migrate to other countries. In Africa, it's the opposite problem -- desertification and water scarcity in the sub-Saharan region are leading to food shortages and growing conflict over resources. In North America, the escalation of storm severity and frequency is identified as an early warning sign of major changes to come.

Nash deploys an impressive lineup of expert talking heads, including politicians (John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and even Newt Gingrich), scientists, aid workers and activists. They all convey pretty much the same message: Climate change is already here and wreaking havoc from Louisiana to China, forcing residents to become temporary or even permanent environmental refugees. Many contend that circumstances will likely worsen, at least temporarily until the world can reach consensus on carbon reductions, financial restructuring and environmental remediation.

Throughout, Nash (who also narrates) maintains a somber tone of alarm concerning the mounting likelihood of environmental catastrophe. The footage he gathers, however, is often surprisingly mundane, since the crew never seems to experience any catastrophic climate events. Instead, file footage is edited into the narrative to depict these disasters, but the impact seems muted, while inserted still images have a static feel and sometimes appear only remotely connected to the problems Nash tries to elucidate.

In the final half-hour, he gets to the root of the problem: the impacts of climate change can't be isolated from issues of social inequity, resource exploitation, armed conflict, political expediency or any of dozens of other contributing factors.

Production values are solid throughout, although the editing, hop scotching among interviewees, becomes needlessly repetitive. Despite the film's chorus of expert opinion, in the end the reality of climate-induced refugee migration still seems regrettably abstract.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival

Production company: LA Think Tank
Director-screenwriter: Michael P. Nash
Producers: Michael P. Nash, Justin Hogan
Executive producers: Stephen Nemeth, Pat McConathy
Director of photography: Michael P. Nash
Music: Michael Mollura
Editors: Michael P. Nash, Bret Langefels, Nancy Frazen
No rating, 89 minutes