Magazine article Nieman Reports

Watching "The True Saga of the Climate Crisis Unfold" in Global Communities Big and Small: John Sutter, NF '19, Seeks to Make a Multigenerational Climate Change Documentary

Magazine article Nieman Reports

Watching "The True Saga of the Climate Crisis Unfold" in Global Communities Big and Small: John Sutter, NF '19, Seeks to Make a Multigenerational Climate Change Documentary

Article excerpt

THE MOST INTERESTING stories last more than a lifetime.

This was especially apparent to me on a recent visit to Shishmaref, Alaska, an Inupiat village near the Arctic Circle that is faced with the prospect of relocation because of the climate crisis. I flew up there as part of the "Baseline" documentary series I'm directing with the support of Knight Visiting Nieman fellowship and a grant from the National Geographic Society.

The point of this series, which is still in early development, is to stretch the public's collective memory of environmental change by filming intimate portraits of a few climate hotspots--and then committing to revisit those same places well into the future. I'm in my mid"30s, and, strange as it sounds, it's a project I hope will outlast me.

I landed in Shishmaref on a tiny plane carrying only me, my colleague, our equipment, some mail, and the pilot. I'd been to the village twice before while reporting for CNN, but it continues to strike me how edge-of-the-world and yet familiar the community feels.

The village's problems are clear: The permafrost is melting, the sea ice is disappearing, and the now-fragile land is crumbling into the water like brittle cornbread. One house already has fallen off the edge. The community has voted repeatedly to move away from these climate-era dangers, but they haven't come up with the money to do it. One point of the "Baseline" series is to see what happens. Will the community move? How will people protect themselves? …

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