These Are The 6 Climate-Themed Films Premiering at Sundance 2017

Photo: Twitter / @ben_nilson
Photo: Twitter / @ben_nilson

This year’s Sundance film festival is expected to make quite a splash as it kicks off a climate-themed edition one day before Donald Trump takes office.

Far from the abstract topic it was when Al Gore screened his An Inconvenient Truth documentary at the festival in 2006, climate change is very much a mainstream issue in 2017.

Exposure for climate change outside scientific and professional literature plays a critical role in growing consumer demand for low-carbon products and problem-solving government policies.

As the largest independent film festival in the United States, Sundance has long been a golden opportunity for filmmakers to introduce global audiences to movies and documentaries that are now considered classics.

On the eve of the inauguration of the next US president in Washington DC, the festival kicks off its 2017 edition in Park City, a mountain resort in Utah. It is scheduled to run from 19 until 28 January.

As part of a special climate change segment of 14 films and documentaries, six productions are set to undergo their world premieres at the event. Will any of them go down into history as classics? Let’s take a look.

1. An Inconvenient Sequel

A decade since his documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped push climate change into the spotlight around the world, politician-turned-environmentalist Al Gore is back with a sequel. Rather than solely focusing on the causes of climate change, An Inconvenient Sequel explores “how close we are to a real solution,” according to Sundance.

A 2007 global internet survey by The Nielsen Company and Oxford University revealed that 89 per cent of respondents said Gore’s original climate change documentary had made them “more aware of the problem.” With Trump in the White House, Gore will hope that his new documentary makes people more aware of the solutions.

2. Chasing Coral

You may know filmmaker Jeff Orlowski from his Emmy Award-winning documentary Chasing Ice. The 2012 film includes groundbreaking footage of collapsing glaciers shot while Orlowski was embedded with an environmental photography project, including clips of a 75-minute record-breaking shot of a glacier calving event in Greenland.

In his latest production, the New Yorker joins a team of photographers and scientists to explore the world’s coral reefs, which are vanishing at an unprecedented rate because of climate change. The process of coral bleaching may not be able to compete with the spectacle of collapsing glaciers. But if Orlowski has managed to shed some new light on the issue, we may soon again be looking at viral clips on YouTube.

3. Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman

This documentary will put the spotlight on the “new heroes of conservation,” deep in rural America, according to the Sundance Website. Directors Susan Froemke, John Hoffman, Beth Aala tell the stories of five of these heroes: a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper and a Gulf fisherman.

The film is based on a book, which, according to its website, explores “their work, family histories and the essential geographies they protect, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman challenges pervasive and powerful myths about American and environmental values.” It will be interesting to see how the film is received in America’s politically conservative heartland.


In contrast to the heroes in Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, this movie puts the spotlight on North America’s indigenous peoples. Three episodes of this larger series are set to premiere at Sundance. The episodes Apache Stronghold, Sacred Water and Red Power – directed by Canadian filmmaker Michelle Latimer – examine factors that “threaten indigenous liberation in the 21st century,” according to Sundance.

Climate change is known to disproportionately impact indigenous people in regions like Alaska and the Arctic, and recent protests against fossil fuel pipelines crossing sacred land have thrust “indigenous resistance” back into the spotlight.

5. Trophy

Trophy explores the “complex consequences of treating animals as commodities,” according to the film’s website. The documentary takes an in-depth look at hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation in the United States and Africa and is directed by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau. A large number of animals is expected to go extinct if climate change continues at its current pace, and livestock accounts for about 15 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the world of big-game hunting may be daunting, Schwarz should have been well prepared. The 2013 documentary Narco Cultura about the infamous Mexican Drug War in Juárez is one of his previous achievements. But will he be able to handle Donald Trump? Photos of the real estate mogul’s sons posing with dead elephants and tigers went viral during last year’s election campaign.

6. Water & Power: A California Heist

California has been suffering from a historic drought linked to climate change. This documentary by Marina Zenovich examines how the state’s “notorious water barons” profit from the environmental and economic disaster, while farmers and citizens suffer. The upcoming shift in federal climate politics under president Trump is already causing waves in California, and this documentary could add some extra fuel to the fire.

Can’t wait for these films to become available? Have a look at the eight most spectacular climate change documentaries of 2016.

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