Vanishing Lands: A documentary on Environmental Migration

Flooding in Kiribati. © Pelenise Alofa

By Fabiano D’Amato

We are all aware of the environmental effects of climate change. However, much less known is the tale of the more than 200 million people who might face displacement, as their livelihood and cultural heritage is threatened by global warming. Through a feature-length documentary, I want to tell the story of these current and future climate migrants, populations torn between the hope that their lands can be preserved and the realization that they need to leave with little chance of ever coming back.

As a filmmaker, I have had the opportunity to travel the world, from the most isolated parts of the Amazon to the highest Andean plateaus, where, for fleeting moments, I shared the lives of the people threatened by human and industrial exploitation in all its forms.

It was during a trip to Australia that I first heard of the situation in Kiribati, those low-lying islands lost in the middle of the Pacific, slowly but inexorably submerged by rising sea levels. I became particularly touched by the tale of the inhabitants of Kiribati who, in the next few decades, face a unique phenomenon in our human history: the physical disappearance of a whole country. I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen to this land and its population. Forced to flee abroad, will the last ever i-Kiribati citizen be born in our lifetime?

From there emerged the idea for VANISHING LANDS, a feature-length documentary that takes us on a journey to meet the people who daily face the human and cultural consequences of climate change. 

From Kiribati, the film will take us across the ocean to Bangladesh and bear witness to the poverty and discrimination inflicted on migrants living in Dhaka. The story then moves to the USA, where the authorities in Miami still refuse to acknowledge the threat that rising sea levels pose to their vulnerable city, despite the alarming signs they now see every year.

School children walking through a flooded road in Kiribati. © Pelenise Alofa

Climate migrants face an uncertain future. The film will explore what should and can be done to ensure that these people are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives with dignity once they have lost everything because of humanity’s environmental irresponsibility.

As they face slow-onset environmental disasters, I want to understand how these people deal with a problem that develops over years, and at what point do they realize that there will be no other option but to leave voluntarily, before they are forced to flee when it is too late. A difficult decision to make, especially when they know that they will have to abandon for good everything they and their ancestors have built.

For the film to sincerely depict the intimacy of their daily lives, it is important to tell this story through the eyes of these populations and avoid portraying them simply as victims. By genuinely experiencing their culture as well as their joys and fears, viewers will connect and identify with these people and ultimately understand what they risk losing because of climate change. With the hope that the viewers will also question their own relationship to their home and culture, and wonder what they would do if faced with the same threats.

This is a story that concerns us all.

For more information on this documentary project and on how you can participate in it, feel free to contact me:

Lost Hitchhiker ProductionsFabiano D'Amato
Tel:  +41 79 764 01 83