THE BLOG

Taklub or Leave It: What We're Missing in Depicting Climate Change on Film

18/12/2015 15:31 | Updated 18 December 2016

The seats are only just cold, the china barely packed away and the carpets hardly swept from the close of COP21 summit, the supposed summit to end all climate summits, as 195 countries across the world came together to negotiate their first agreement on tackling climate change in 20 years. Much hullaballoo was made of the opportunity to place binding agreements and targets to strike at the heart of the issue of global warming; to manage, to reverse and to prevent. Like much other fanfare, it was premature, undeserved and much hollow talk left a painful familiar ringing in the ears. The agreement lacks legally binding directives, assures no firm penalties and guarantees no real resultant reduction in global CO2 emissions which, in turn, hastens the horror of global warming rather than mitigates its effects.

And how have those effects been displayed in the media? We're used to apocalyptic images of great melting ice caps and dried lakes but little of the human or emotional cost of those caught in the eye of the storms and their dreadful aftermath ever reaches us. The terrible power of these extreme weather events decimates not only the topography of the landscape but the landscape of people's lives. Yet the occasional, token depiction of these events in mainstream film seems to be little more than weather porn with a side pinch of story that ends as the noble politician determines to embark on a changed political direction or a family is reunited whole as the tsunami/typhoon/tornado subsides.

This does nothing to hammer home the reality of the dangers these weather changes pose to human populations and the genuine victims of increasingly severe climate events deserve a film that reflects the magnitude of such catastrophes. That's why instead of listening to the trite clichés of governments unhurried by the continued decline of our environment, we should be paying attention to creative products which more accurately reflect the immediacy and the grandiose horror of the threat to our communities.

Taklub, the winner of the 2015 Cli-Fi Award for Best Film (titled the Cliffies) is a devastatingly human and raw exploration of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda) which hit South-East Asia, causing particular destruction in the Philippines in 2013. The film is an intimate affair which focuses on how one family piece their lives back together.

The auteur at the helm is previous Cannes favourite Brilliante Mendoza who receives the support of the Philippines government in forming this new work about disaster action. Whilst the idea of the British Government directly financing a film about an issue as important as climate change would understandably raise a few eyebrows, this film appears to have escaped a level of dogmatism and propaganda about the subject, instead focusing on the inward torment of the people affected. Equally surprising as a piece of film financed by the government, the film also features Nora Ankur, a siren with gravitas and presence, celebrated in her own right in the Philippines and now on her second project with Mendoza. This is not a straightforward moralistic piece of propaganda, these people are damaged and their lives not on a simple upward curve of improvement after the typhoon. Distributed debris of sentimental flotsam and jetsam hint at the life swept away with the waters, photos and keepsakes are strewn and abandoned and pain is etched along with bloody scars onto the Tacloban residents' faces.

Taklub highlights that the days which follow disasters are ones of fear, of poverty and of deprivation as ruined communities can no longer support themselves which is an issue much overlooked by the global elite. Climate change is not merely an immediate threat of dangerous phenomenon but a long-term and insidious catalyst for economic decline as our productivity and resources are laid to waste and we must assume an economic responsibility for those who are receiving the brunt of the force from the planet we've ruined. Through unnerving shots of young girls being ogled in the absence of their parents, Taklub hints at the dark underbelly of the crime that grows in poverty and the handheld camerawork goes a way to supporting the crushing claustrophobia of a world in decay. The government here is no white knight saviour of these people - instead, acting as an useless mouthpiece telling people to relocate without providing alternatives - and tempers and grievances flow as the people grow evermore alone. This builds to a gritty crescendo without a sense of neat closure - indeed the opposite, as we sense that there are probably many communities that are another Taklub out in the world living these horrors.

Recipient of the Ecumenical Jury Prize-Special Mention at Cannes, a fourth time for Mendoza, this film proves that one can make an intimate film that deals with large-scale and important issues in a way that still affords the opportunity for serious consideration in mainstream film and awards. Understated but gripping, moral without being preachy, the film demonstrates understanding of the spectrum of human emotion without melodramatically deifying the characters for their suffering. Taklub contains just the message we should be sending to the circus around COP21, that climate change action is about the prevention of suffering and not merely a war on the elements. It reinvigorates the debate around what we can do, what we should do and what we owe it to others to do.