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Small islands in documentary film

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Documentary filmmakers have recently begun focusing on the vulnerable ecologies of low-lying islands, among them Briar March’s There Once Was an Island and Jon Shenk’s The Island President. The strength of documentary film is that it can make visible the gradual and long-distance ecological effects of climate change while also confronting viewers with the faces and voices of some of the human recipients of related forms of transnational environmental injustice and destruction. The two films highlight the diversity of small islands in environmental and social indicators and also focus on very different aspects of the affected communities’ responses to climate-related disaster risk drivers. Whereas March uses a participant observation approach to highlight local adaptation practices and the threat of relocation, Shenk’s fly-on-the-wall documentary offers viewers insights into Mohamed Nasheed’s political battle to get the world leaders behind global mitigation practices that will help save the Maldives and other low-lying islands from submergence. They thereby remind their audiences that the world has a responsibility toward the inhabitants of small islands, exactly because they are at the forefront of global environmental change and therefore among those who bear the brunt of our collective carbon emissions.
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Keywords: Maldives; documentary; film; islands; politics

Document Type: Special Article

Publication date: April 1, 2015

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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