There is something profoundly affecting about a director whose film about the terrifying threat of climate change starts from the grief she is experiencing at the loss of her sister to cancer.
Jennifer Abbott’s The Magnitude of All Things skillfully links her personal, private grief with a growing awareness of the grief climate change is bringing at a global scale. The threat of climate change has been headline news for decades, but for some communities, it is already a reality – such as Canada’s southernmost Inuit community, where ice melting is rapidly changing landscapes and ways of life known for millennia, or the people of the Pacific’s Kiribati, which may disappear beneath the waves within decades.
Depths of understanding
For such a disturbing topic, Abbott brings sensitivity to the stories of people losing everything that provides for both hauntingly beautiful images and a depth of understanding in how deeply humans are connected to this planet that we are so carelessly destroying.
Beginning with lyrical images of her childhood in Canada, exploring rivers and lakes and coastlines with her sister, Abbott takes us on a rapid tour of the world’s ecological crisis points, moving seamlessly from Canada’s southernmost Inuit community, the Nunatsiavut, to Kiritbait and the Great Barrier Reef and Hunter Valley in Australia, Sápara Territory in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, and Tasmania’s 560 million-year-old Gondwana ecosystem.
The vastness of life
It’s not all simply the stories of people – like Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, or bushfire survivors Jan Harris and Jo Dodds – who have already suffered from the effects of climate change; Abbott does not neglect to include global advocates of curbing rising temperatures, with interviews with Greta Thunberg and Roger Hallam, co-founder of London based Extinction Rebellion.
But for all Thunberg and Hallam’s righteous anger – and the young Swede’s speech at the UN bears watching over and over – it is the very human stories that are so effectively revealed here.
Charlie Veron, a marine biologist known as the Godfather of Coral, became one of the earliest voices warning about the bleaching of the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. But it is his personal story where he reveals that it was only after the accidental death of his daughter that he understood that he did not matter – and that that realization made him understand that he also did not matter as an individual against the vastness of life on planet earth, that Abbott’s message starts to build.
It is, as Veron says, that we only begin to care about the planet and its ecology when we realize there is something greater than our petty concerns; our sense that we are at the centre of the universe.
Filming with the people of the rainforest, Abbott draws out the intimate connection those living in such wondrous nature have with the land, the water, the wildlife and the plants.
«Nature has life and its life is just like ours. It does not want to die,» as one of the protagonists remarks. «Other species are waiting for us to catch up and share our spirit with them. Nature is ready to teach us solidarity and equality.»
This sense of connection is what Abbott brings to her film and the emotional intelligence of connecting her own intimate experience of grief with a planetary climate crisis of grief no longer seems such a strange approach to her subject matter.
From scenes of an Inuit woman weeping for the loss of her ecosystem to the dreadful bush fires of Australia and chilling images of a bleached coral reef, the message that «nature and humans are not in balance» is unavoidable.
By linking the experience of grief, of the loss of a loved one that all we humans have experienced or will one day, Abbott brings home a heartfelt message of love and care and reminds us that we all hold this beautiful world in our own hands.
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