In Tuvalu, sea takes the place of the earth

‘Thule Tuvalu’, global warming is here and now

Two wonderful places, where man has learned to live in harmony with the environment, are today subjected to the consequences of a change that depends on man himself. On one side Thule, a town in the North of Greenland surrounded by ice, on the other side Tuvalu, a small island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Two distant lands, linked by the same tragic fate. The threat of global warming and climate changes creates a connection between the stories of these places and the stories of their inhabitants in the tale of “Thule Tuvalu“, the beautiful documentary directed by the Swiss director Matthias von Gunten.

Thule Tuvalu poster

Winner of the Best International Film at Cinema Planeta 2015, the Mexican festival member of the Green Film Network, the movie shows how these two realities face every day the tangible consequences of a question much discussed today, but rarely with a comprehensive knowledge.

In Thule ice melting threatens the survival of the population compromising the traditional livelihoods of families. In parallel, Tuvalu island must deal with the rising sea level, that destroys the beaches and inundates the soil with salt water.

The point of view of von Gunten is an inside and direct look at the heart of the question, in its concrete and current impact. “I’m always interested in human issues”, reveals the director, whom we talked about the film with. “I think the fact that we are changing our own planet, the only base we have for our existence, is an interesting and new phenomenon in the history of the human being. So I was interested in telling stories of people who concretely experience this change in their daily life. I thought this view could add something interesting to the whole debate over climate change. And for this reason it was important for me to avoid experts or politicians for keeping the focus exclusively on human experience“.

Ice melting in Thule
In a game of references between cause and effect, Thule and Tuvale are the two sides of the same coin. As never before, the film shows the impact that global warming has on us all. People living according to the nature cycle suffer its most immediate effects: traditions, culture and resources are not anymore compatible with survival.

In Thule ice arrives two months later than usual, upsetting the rhythm of life and work. In Tuvalu the sea takes the place of the earth, reducing the availability of drinking water and increasing the problem of environmental refugees. For many inhabitants the choice is between escape or death, while international institutions are ignoring their emergency.

Von Gunten explains: “The form comes from the content: closeness to these people, their thoughts, their daily lives and their struggles against change. And the rhythm comes from their rhythm. In everything, even in sad stories, there is beauty. I had to look for it in two totally different places because I had to tell my stories as something that is not local but global. Once found, this deep connection between these two places gave an inner and unspoken coherence. Finally the challenge was really to make these two places to become one“.

The rising of sea level in Tuvalu
Everything we do to the planet has a price, even heavy and painful, and we have to be aware of that. It’s not about the future, our lives are changing now and in a decisive way.

My goal has never been to change other people”, concludes the director. “This is not the role of art or cinema as I meant it. My goal is to develop a picture, a story in which people have the opportunity to dive into their own thoughts. I want to invite people to reflect about our times, about ourselves. I deeply believe in the power of this kind of art. If we continue keeping this level of reflection together, we contribute to a natural human movement or changing without indoctrinating anybody. Even more I believe that the strongest stories we can tell are stories of human beings with whom we can empathize“.