Watch wildfires and wading waiters at Planetary Health Film Lab premiere

Mark Terry

From raging wildfires devastating the Australian wilderness to Venetian waiters in rubber boots serving customers packed into flooding restaurants, the real-time impacts of climate change, told by the people living through them, will be on display at the public screening of documentaries produced as part of the Planetary Health Film Lab at York University.

The free event will take place at 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Global Strategy Lab, room 2120 Dahdaleh Building at the Keele Campus, and will showcase the work of six young, emerging international filmmakers completing an intensive, five-day pilot documentary film course at York University. The screening will include an open discussion with the filmmakers and organizers.

The Planetary Health Film Lab course, taught by York Postdoctoral Fellow in Documentary Film and Global Health Mark Terry, will empower students to effectively tell stories that communicate data, research and life experiences related to global and planetary health through specific theories, techniques and modes of social issue filmmaking, providing hands-on experience with new digital technologies and platforms. This first iteration of the course, taught during winter reading week, will include students from Ecuador, Colombia, Italy, India and Australia. Each student will be tasked with producing a three-minute film that tells a story about the impacts of climate change in their respective countries and communities, which will be premiered at the public screening and included in the United Nations’ Youth Climate Report.

Mark Terry
Mark Terry

Terry has personally witnessed how much short documentary films have influenced climate policy creation on a global scale, having launched the Youth Climate Report, a series of nearly 300 videos on global climate research produced by young people situated on an interactive digital map, at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2017. He helped to conceive the project after having been invited to produce yearly hour-long compilations of short youth-produced films for COPs beginning in 2011. The United Nations now holds an annual Global Youth Video Challenge for young people around the world to document climate change and their actions to combat it, with winning entries being showcased on the Youth Climate Report map.

Not just a form of entertainment, short documentary film has become an effective visual medium for delivering information to COP delegates and policy makers inundated with complex scientific research. “I’ve seen them with their laptops at a negotiation session and we talk about Tanzania and they’ll open up the map and watch the video from Tanzania to get this visual context,” Terry explains. “It’s very exciting.”

Equally exciting for Terry are the prospects for knowledge mobilization with projects like the film lab, with students enabled to take their skills and theories back to their respective countries and share them with their peers. Committed to giving a voice to young people, he notes a mobilization of youth activists like Greta Thunberg around the world leading the charge against climate change as an influence in his teaching and film making work. “They’re the next generation that’s not only going to be affected by the impacts of climate change, but they’re the ones who are going to be in power,” says Terry.

Although young people are speaking louder and in greater numbers about climate change, Terry admits that while those in power today might be starting to listen, they are yet to begin changing their behaviour. “When the new generation of young people who were brought up with this activism and this desire and desperation to do something about climate change, added to the frustration of our generation not doing anything about it, I think we’re going to get a more idealistic politician,” said Terry.

Terry’s latest book, The Geo-Doc: Geomedia, Documentary Film, and Social Change, was released on Feb. 4. His upcoming documentary, The Changing Face of Iceland, will complete a film trilogy comprised of his works on the impacts of climate change along with The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning and The Polar Explorer.

Partners for the Planetary Health Film Lab include the Young Lives Research Lab in the Faculty of Education and the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University, as well as the Youth Climate Report. The project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.