Kisilu: The Climate Diaries
By Harriet Agerholm
On Tuesday 10 November the Frontline Club hosted a preview screening of Julia Dahr’s Kisilu: The Climate Diaries, ahead of the film’s December screening at the UN climate change conference in Paris. The screening was followed by a discussion with the film’s producer, Hugh Hartford.
The documentary, produced for Al Jazeera, focuses on the eponymous farmer from southeast Kenya and his first hand experiences of the effects of climate change, as he captures much of the footage himself.
Kisilu Musya shows us how his house is destroyed by savage winds and how his crops are first parched and then flooded. In Musya’s words, the extremes that climate change brings mean “everything is being contradicted.”
Throughout the filming period, Musya helped both himself and his community by beginning a village-wide movement to improve the quality of the soil by planting trees.
Yet the documentary is not solely focused on the environment. Hartford said: “If we made it too much about the trees, it would take over the story.” As the film progressed “the trees got surpassed by his relationship with his wife,” said Hartford. “It’s much more of a personal story.”
The producer was clear about the fact that the film provides no grand solutions to the environment crises. Instead, in the film, “what we’re witnessing is a person becoming a leader,” said Hartford.
The film begins not with a description of the global problem, but with a depiction of Musya’s family life and the nine children he supports.
One audience member said that they felt the introduction of the subject of climate change was sudden, to which Hartford replied: “Delaying the mention of climate change is actually deliberate.”
He underlined the idea that although the film is about Kenya’s environmental problems, Kisilu’s life and personality formed the central narrative.
— Louise Orton (@louloulorton) November 10, 2015
Another audience member congratulated Dahr’s distinct approach to such a large problem that is difficult to understand. He said she was the only director who had the “creativity to get out of the non-government organisation straightjacket, as it were, and do bigger films.”
Hartford concurred, and commented on the fact that the film’s special quality comes in part from the fact that the viewer cannot always tell who is behind the camera.
Although Kisilu is a useful tool for climate change activists, “we’re not making a campaign film,” he said.
Another audience member raised the question of how foreign filmmakers manage to tell the Kenyan story without being personally involved, Hartford replied that there was “an interesting dynamic between the crew and the family,” but that was “never a reason not to do something.” The relationships between crew and Musya would endure, Hartford said.
This sentiment of collaboration is expressed in the film. As Musya filmed insects working in teams, he contemplated human inaction in the face of climate devastation. Musya said that insects, “have power in coming together… I wonder why human beings are not doing it.”