To Fight Climate Change, We Need Better Movies

Art-house film TAKLUB could do more for climate-change awareness than countless documentaries


Stills from the 2015 film Taklub, directed by Brillante ​Mendoza

When Super-Typhoon ​Yolanda hit Tacloban City in the Philippines in November 2013, the storm made a direct hit on the city and ​killed 7,000 people there. Filipino director Brillante ​Mendoza decided to make a feature film about the aftermath of ​what the international community called ​Typhoon Haiyan — known as “Typhoon Yolanda” in the Philippines — and he used a quote from the ​Bible to bookend the story:

“A time to mourn and a time to mend.”
Director Brillante ​Mendoza on the right

Mendoza’s ​powerful and emotional ​cli-fi movie — called Taklub in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines — was set up originally as an “advocacy movie” financed by the government of the Philippines ​to help raise awareness of typhoon readiness and the resilience of the Filipino people.

But Mendoza had other plans. He asked a screenwriter to craft a script, put the documentary concept away, and decided to make a feature film. The 90-minute cli-fi movie has already been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and might even have a chance of bagging an Oscar next year in Hollywood in the best foreign film category.

Taklub is that good, that poignant, that brilliant. But while Mendoza is a film director who is well-known in Asia, whether the movie will catch on among arthouse fans in North America and Europe is hard to say.​

Taklub is a quiet, slow-moving, thoughtful piece of international cinema. It stars the famous Filipina actress Nora Aunor, and for her performance alone, the film is worth the price of admission. The movie is real storytelling about an almost unspeakable tragedy, and it follows the lives of a group of typhoon survivors trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. Mendoza wants to say it’s time to mend the country and get things right again. And prepare for the next big storm as well.

​I asked a professor from Vanderbilt Law School, Edward Rubin — who is concerned with climate change issues and has an interest in the power of novels and movies to impact changes in public awareness — what he thought of Mendoza’s movie and its power to effect change.

“Written and audiovisual fiction (cli-fi novels and cli-fi movies like Taklub) can — and must — play a crucial role in educating people worldwide about climate change,” Rubin told me. “To begin with, people will watch the movie and be moved by it; they are not going to look at government charts and scientific research papers.”

A still from the 2015 film, “Taklub,” directed by Brillante ​Mendoza

Even more important, movies like Taklub “present scenarios that make large events comprehensible and future possibilities concrete,” he added. Dr. Rubin further noted, “What is truly false, and belongs in the category of puerile fantasy, is to deny that climate change is occurring. The fact is that many of the grim possibilities portrayed in a cli-fi movie like Taklub will become realities unless we take global concerted action.”​

Can a small movie like Taklub help to raise awareness about global warming and climate change in the Philippines and worldwide? It can if we support the film and invite it to film festivals and other cultural events around the world.

Mendoza set out to make a local movie for audiences in the Philippines first, but he has also succeeded in creating a piece of art that transcends borders and has a global tale to tell.

The question now is: who will screen it?

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