At Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, an animated message about climate change, refugee crisis hits home
As the Climate Summit continues in Glasgow, a crisis unfolds in Madagascar, where 1 million are on the brink of the world’s first famine caused solely by climate change, and an animated short film at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival drums home both the climate and refugee crises.
Are we too late to save the climate?
World leaders negotiate over global warming at the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COPS26), while a crisis unfolds in Madagascar, where 1 million are on the brink of the world’s first famine caused solely by climate change.
Footage from Madagascar has triggered my own memories of starvation caused by a civil war that brought my family here as refugees in 1969.
And volunteering for the first time on the professional jury of the 38th Annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (CICFF), running thru Nov. 14, I came across a cool animated short film that poignantly drums home both the refugee and climate crises.
Some 30,000 are currently gathered in Glasgow, as an August report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds the Earth getting so hot that temperatures are predicted to surpass within a decade the level of warming world leaders have sought to prevent.
Maya Sanbar, director of the Oscar-qualifying animated short showing at the film fest, “Footsteps On The Wind,” hopes sharing that message through a children’s film will have greater impact.
“There’s a lot of levels of learning you can have with animation,” she said. “It allows you to depersonalize, to emotionally trigger and engage at a level that’s not political, because it’s not who is right and who is wrong. It’s just a story told from a child’s point of view.”
And trigger and engage the film does. It’s so short, that any more would be a spoiler.
The soundtrack of the film, about the plight of two children orphaned by an earthquake, is “Inshallah,” a song by 17-time Grammy Award-winning artist Sting, who has long been in the climate battle. He and his wife co-founded the nonprofit Rainforest Fund in 1989.
In Arabic, “Inshallah” translates to: “If God is willing, then it shall come to pass.”
Sanbar, a Palestinian immigrant who now lives in London, was visiting the couple when Sting sought her feedback on the song he wrote about the Syrian refugee crisis, for his 2017 album, “57th & 9th.”
She fell in love with it. Born in Haifa, Israel, her family became refugees after fleeing to Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
“I’ve been wanting to make a film about refugees for a while. When I heard Sting’s song, it was like a lightning bolt. I knew then it needed to be an animated film — and six minutes, just like the song. Animation allows you to shorthand the message,” she said of the film also screened before the thousands at COPS26 last week.
President Joe Biden left the summit touting historic agreements to cut methane emissions, a huge contributor to global warming, by 30 percent in the next decade; as well as preserve the world’s forests, desperately needed to remove carbon pollution; and invest in carbon-neutral technologies and clean energy.
More importantly, Biden acknowledged the U.S. and wealthier nations bear responsibility for the crisis that manifests in erratic weather patterns devastating poorer nations, which pay the price while contributing little to global emissions. Poorer nations like Madagascar.
The United Nations World Food Program currently is sounding the global alarm on the plight of the world’s fourth largest island, on the verge of the first ever famine to be caused by climate change — rivers evaporated, farming decimated, widespread malnutrition impacting half a million children under age five.
I was frozen by the report by David Muir, the first American network journalist to travel there with the World Food Program. Footage of the children with distended bellies triggered flashbacks of the Nigerian Biafran Civil War.
None will forget the images beamed into living rooms across the globe of starving Igbo women and children suffering from a condition called kwashiorkor — where the stomach, without food, turns on itself, until there is no more than skin and bones.
More than 2 million of my tribe died. So I was floored to see kwashiorkor caused by climate change, not war, in a country that produces 0.01 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions.
And just as Sanbar hopes the plight of the children in her film moves audiences, I hope the same for the plight of the children in Madagascar.
The two weeks of talks by more than 100 world leaders may or may not bring breakthroughs on climate mitigation. But as the world’s second-biggest polluter, it is critical the U.S. lead efforts, after withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The planet careens forward. Temperatures rise. Sand in the hourglass fades. And more than 1 million starve in Madagascar, due to global warming.
But as Sanbar notes, we can all do our part, whether by decreasing your home’s carbon footprint or helping the World Food Program get water and food to Madagascar.
“We hope to raise awareness. We hope to touch people emotionally. We hope to remind people that people don’t choose to leave their homes,” Sanbar said. “We hope to make them curious about finding out more. And we hope to impact change in behavior.”