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Five Takes on Climate and Cultural Change in Tuvalu

From: The Contemporary Pacific
Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2007
pp. 294-306 | 10.1353/cp.2007.0004

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Five Takes on Climate and Cultural Change in Tuvalu
The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise. 75 minutes, color, 2004. Director: Christopher Horner. Producer: Gilliane Le Gallic. A European Television Center production, in association with Planète & Planète Future. Distributor: Documentary Educational Resources <http://www.der.org> US$59.95 (individuals), $175.00 (institutions).
Paradise Drowned: Tuvalu, The Disappearing Nation. 47 minutes, color, 2001. Writer and producer: Wayne Tourell. Directors: Mike O'Connor, Savana Jones-Middleton, and Wayne Tourell, for New Zealand Natural History, Ltd. Distributor: Off The Fence. Information on ordering and price can be obtained from <http://www.offthefence.com>
Tuvalu: That Sinking Feeling. 16 minutes, color, 2005. Producer/Director: Elizabeth Pollock. Featured online on PBS Frontline / World/Rough Cut. Available for viewing at: < http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough /2005/12/tuvalu_that_sin_1.html
Before the Flood. 59 minutes, color, 2005. Producer/ Director: Paul Lindsay. Associate Producer: Lucy Bowden. Distributor: Stampede Limited <http://www.stampede.co.uk> US$25.00
Time and Tide. 59 minutes, color, 2005. Directors: Julie Bayer and Josh Salzman. Executive Producer: Peter Gilbert. Distributor: Wavecrest Films. Information on ordering and price can be obtained from <http://www.wavecrestfilms.com>

Tuvalu has come to epitomize the approaching environmental catastrophe of worldwide climate change andsea-level rise. This is a somewhat ironic fact, since its population of under twelve thousand is dwarfed by the millions of other people who also stand to be displaced from their home­lands in the next century. None­theless, Tuvalu's iconic role as "poster child" for encroaching global disaster is well established by the five films reviewed here, all of which have been produced in the last five years. A steady stream of newspaper stories and magazine articles has also depicted the "sinking," "drowning," or "disappearing" of Tuvalu under "rising waters." (A slightly earlier film, Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands [2000], focused particularly on Sämoa, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands, and was reviewed by John Hay in The Contemporary Pacific 14:291–293.)

Media attraction to Tuvalu as an appealing victim of global warming is understandable. Composed of nine atolls and reef islands, Tuvalu has a land area of just twenty-six square kilometers (the fourth smallest country in the world, about half the size ofManhattan Island) and a resident population of some 11,600 people. It is isolated, photogenic, culturally distinct, an independent nation since 1978, and a member of the United Nations since 2000. Tuvalu has also taken a leadership role in discussions of global climate change, seeking to [End Page 294] raise public awareness through speeches in the United Nations, leadership in regional organizations, and high-profile participation in global policy conferences. Tuvaluan leaders are demanding that the wider world acknowledge the fact of global ­climate change, accept responsibility forthe rising sea levels and altered weather patterns that Tuvalu is experiencing, and do something about them.

If climate change trends continue, Tuvalu could become uninhabitable within the next half century, perhaps the first nation of environmental refugees. These five films all document that grim reality, providing compell­ing images of the local lifestyle, environmental changes, and individuals' responses, while raising important ethical and practical questions for viewers. They also all focus on urban Funafuti, Tuvalu's capital, where half the population now lives. This choice inevitably simplifies and masks some aspects of Tuvalu life because outer island communities still remain the real homeland for most Tuvaluans, and the essence of what will be lost should Tuvalu succumb to "rising waters." Each film uses a distinctive mix of techniques, sound, story line, and content to represent Tuvalu's ­situation. They share significant ­commonalities, yet ultimately tell very different stories.

The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise

This French-American coproduction isthe longest and most detailed of the films. Its opening scenes of rush-hour freeway traffic and suburban sprawl in Southern California effectively link Tuvalu's "trouble," and its possible future disappearance, with lifestyles in larger industrialized countries. These connections are deepened when the British-accented narrator expresses feelings that many viewers can easily share: modern life involves...