Audiences Want Climate Stories

A Redford Center Panel at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

8 in 10 Americans not only believe that climate change is real, but are actively concerned about how it impacts their lives. We’re beyond the point of needing to convince people, and we’re at the point of needing to engage with each other more frequently around how climate change is indefinitely going to change all of our lives.”  – Redford Center Programs Manager, Heather Fipps 

On January 21, our team had the honor of hosting Audiences Want Climate Stories, an environmental impact filmmaking panel at Sundance Film Festival. As an extension of our mission to break climate stories into the mainstream and forefront of our collective consciousness, this event featured film industry leaders paving the path towards claiming space for climate narratives in fiction and nonfiction forms of popular media. The conversation was led by our Programs Manager, Heather Fipps, and speakers included Megha Agrawal Sood (Doc Society), Sophie Barthes (Director, The Pod Generation), Anna Jayne Joyner (Good Energy), Jeff Orlowski-Yang (Exposure Labs), Tracy Rector (Nia Tero), Matthieu Rytz (Director, Deep Rising), and Redford Center Executive Director, Jill Tidman

Here are four takeaways from our discussion:

  • The landscape and demand for climate stories are shifting. 

    For a very long time, the conversation around climate change and the environment has been led by circles of scientists and policy and law makers with artists, storytellers, and BIPOC communities being largely absent from the conversation until recently. Contrary to the technical narratives of research, legislation, and journalism, intersectional storytelling has been able to tap into the human emotion of the issue, making it more personal for people across the globe and evoking a hunger for more information, more stories, and more solutions. This reality has led to a more connected and concerned society willing to engage fully with the issue and solutions our future depends on.

  • Independent film is breaking the cycle of the dominant film industry voices that have controlled which stories are told (and not told), how they are told, and who gets to tell them.

    Often, the stories we see in mainstream media are funded and prioritized by those who have historically held wealth and power in our society. Independent films — and the individuals and organizations that fund them — are challenging this reality. With each and every Independent film produced, we are flipping film industry dynamics, abolishing its traditional hierarchy, making way for impacted communities and historically underfunded storytellers, and introducing fresh voices and ideas to the world, helping more people feel seen and empowered to inspire change. 

  • Stories are helping to humanize and depoliticize the issue of climate change, providing complex and nuanced perspectives to audiences and building bridges over once-polarizing waters.

    Climate change does not have to be viewed through a binary, political lens, but rather as a daily shared experience that is urgent and already here. As more climate stories break into the mainstream, audiences are also beginning to identify with the topics and concerns presented to them through stories and loved characters, making clearer connections between climate disasters, the catalysts behind them, and the actions we can take to prevent them.

  • The independent film industry is helping pave the way for a more environmentally aware and engaged future, but there’s still work to be done.  

    While there are organizations like The Redford Center, Doc Society, Nia Tero, and Exposure Labs that are channeling resources to independent films and artists, the absence of resources and in turn, intersectional voices, remains glaringly present.

    Even within a movement that is striving towards liberation from a traditionally prescriptive industry, there is still the risk of creating an echo chamber of dominant voices and beliefs and it is our responsibility to circumvent that possibility. Only through creating more opportunities and resources, constant check-ins and reflections, difficult conversations, challenging our ideas, deferring to and centering frontline artists, and holding ourselves and each other accountable, can we build a foundation that benefits our stories, our communities, and our planet.

Stories matter. They hold the power to make people feel seen, help communities connect issues and take action, broaden our intersectional lens, and lead us to the solutions we’ve been searching for. Whether you want to invest in the amplification of a story or share your own, you play a critical role in creating ripples of connection, understanding, empathetic awareness, and accountability across the world through each and every story you support and share. 

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    Photos by Kavi Peshawaria, courtesy of The Redford Center

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