GLOBAL VIEWIt can be a tricky thing to leave a successful career and venture into another field, especially one famous for failure and broken dreams.
Michael Nash, a 1978 graduate of John Carroll High in Fort Pierce, made that leap in 1994, moving to Hollywood to pursue his film-making dreams full time. But Nash, once a successful financial administrator for auto dealers, appears to have made good on that dream.
His time in Tinseltown could soon pay off, mostly because of his documentary, “Climate Refugees,” which will have its world premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Nash traveled with the film to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the United Nations’ climate summit in December, but he hopes to connect at Sundance with a distributor or corporate sponsor so it can be seen widely.
His previous film, “Fuel,” which Nash wrote and directed, won several awards, including the top prize at the Lisbon Film Festival in Portugal, but at first, the United Nations wouldn’t return his phone calls when he was setting up interviews for “Climate Refugees.” In December, however, because of his film and interviews with people on the front lines of the issue, the U.N. asked him to serve on expert panels that included top climatologists and human migration experts.
For the film, Nash traveled to about two dozen countries, often by himself. He went to India, Bangladesh, China, the Arctic Circle, the Pacific islands of Tuvalu and Fiji, Ethiopia, Kenya and many European countries.
“We traveled around the world for two-and-a-half years documenting the human migration caused by climatic change, and it’s a really interesting thing no one’s really looking at,” he said. “People have always kind of migrated, but there’s no more available real estate. And now they’re crossing borders, which are starting to create conflicts.”
Nash said he is less interested in the battle over whether climate change is caused by humans or is a natural cycle. He says that is like arguing the species of shark as the victim lies bleeding on the beach. Pay attention to the victims, he says, and that includes the climate refugees.
“We better hope man is causing (climate change) because if we are in a natural cycle and it is caused by something we can’t control, that would really be alarming,” Nash said in a Reuters news account.
In an interview with Indian River in December, Nash talks about his film-making career and Treasure Coast roots.
How did you come up with the idea of making “Climate Refugees?"
I read an article in October of 2006 that said there are more environmental refugees in the world than political or religious refugees. I had a hard time believing that, and I started research on the subject of climatic migration and found very few articles on it.
You made some change to the film after early viewers noted it was too dark. Why did you do that?
In our first test screening in Hollywood, the film really took the audience into a tough place. I never wanted to make an eco-horror film. I wanted to illuminate to the world the human face of climate change. To bring light on the subject that currently 25 million people are now classified as climate refugees. I didn’t eliminate any of the truth in my efforts to lighten the film up, I simply added to the solution aspect of the film, the fix. Make no mistake, this is a film that will make you think about things you’ve never thought about. When I first outlined the treatment, never in a million years did I ever think I’d be interviewing Army generals and Pentagon employees for a film on climate change. That is, until I sat in war room-like senerio where top military officially now consider our changing climate a national security risk.
You focus on places like Bangladesh, the Maldives and Tuvalu. Are they doomed?
Doomed is an alarming term. Their ability to sustain a normal life is changing, causing them to relocate. Currently, the president of the Maldives is looking for land to buy, so he can move his entire country. It’s an interesting thought that in the 21st century entire countries will be forced to relocate. The Maldives and Tuvalu are two of 40 to 50 island nations that currently are feeling the effects of our changing climate, rising seas and the salinization of their land. Millions of people on these islands will hopefully end up in New Zealand or Australia. Australia has closed the doors on these island nations and New Zealand will only take them if they are under 45 years old. Bangladesh, a country of 155 million people, is basically at sea level. It once was protected by the largest mangrove forest in the world but a large cyclone ripped the mangrove forest apart, leaving it vulnerable to future storms. Anyone living along the Treasure Coast knows the importance of mangroves.
The Sundance Film Festival gets 10,000 entries. “Climate Refugees” is one of only 200 picked. Is this big for you?
For a filmmaker, Sundance is equal to playing in the National Championship game. It doesn’t get any better. For me, Copenhagen was all about illuminating the human face of climate change to the leaders of the world and the policymakers. Sundance will be about bringing this message to the public so they can hold their politicians accountable for their needs and beliefs.
You had some influential people lobby to include “Climate Refugees" in Sundance. How did that happen?
I knew if we had heard nothing from the Sundance Film Festival by Thanksgiving, chances are we didn’t get in. The Thursday before Thanksgiving, I was on the phone with Justin Hogan who helped produce the film, and I told him we needed to pull all the stops out to have a chance at Sundance. We had heard that the festival had received a record 10,000 submissions this year. The next morning I jumped on the phones early, calling Sen. [Barbara] Boxer, Newt Gingrich, Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. [of Colorado] and Sen. John Kerry. I told them all that I thought the film was on the fence and a call from them might be the push it needed. A couple days later, on Monday, I received a call from a Sundance representative who informed us that they were very exited for “Climate Refugees” to play in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. He went on telling me that within an hour that Friday, they had received calls from Sens. Boxer and Kerry and Gov. Ritter. He also informed that if its any consolation, the film was accepted before all the phone calls.
Tell us about these e-mails that show some scientists may have skewed research to make a stronger case for global warming caused by humans. Do you think the research on global warming is skewed? And how does the e-mail controversy impact the overall issue and did it have much impact at Copenhagen?
I think both sides of this issue are very important to making the correct decisions. Good science needs to be skeptical. The problem with climate change is that it’s become so polarized that it can be difficult to find the truth. That is one of the motivating factors that sent me on this journey.
I had no agenda except to find out if there was a human face to climate change, and if there was, what did it look and sound like. At the core of this film, I learn about a collision that is taking place in civilization – an intersection where over-population, over-consumption, limited resources and a changing climate are all colliding with each other. The outcome is climatic migration.
Only in the United States is the issue so political. What I find sad is the polarization and the unneeded spin on both sides. I thought is was convenient that the e-mails came out just before Copenhagen. In the end we need to listen to the science. Newt Gingrich in the film states, “If you read the science, there is no doubt climate change is happening.” No one can tell me that climate change isn’t happening. Over and over again, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I’ve had conversations with 80-year-old farmers and fishermen from all walks of life that have nothing to gain by telling lies. All of them spoke of the change, and the fact that most of their families have already relocated. One can debate on the cause, but our world is changing.
Your parents and some of your siblings still live on the Treasure Coast. Do you miss it?
I really do. I really enjoyed my high school years at John Carroll and met a lot of really good people. The Treasure Coast is really the most southern unbuilt paradise left on the East Coast. Several years back when Hutchinson Island was nailed by two hurricanes within a couple week period, I really believe that was the inspiration for this film.
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