The Life List: 4 reasons to watch climate change documentary Anote's Ark

Anote's Ark is about Kiribati, a country in the central Pacific Ocean, and its fascinating former president, Anote Tong. PHOTO: ANOTE'S ARK/FACEBOOK

LOS ANGELES - What if your island nation was being swallowed up by rising seas and your only hope is a charismatic leader trying to get the global community to help?

Swiss-Canadian film-maker Matthieu Rytz tells the story of Kiribati, a country in the central Pacific Ocean, and its fascinating former president, Anote Tong, in the 2018 documentary Anote's Ark. The festival favourite is now streaming on

Here are four reasons why you should catch it.

1. It illustrates the existential threat posed by climate change

Anote's Ark, which premiered at the Sundance film festival in 2018, tells the story of Kiribati, made up of a remote group of atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

With a population of 122,000, this low-lying paradise is one the first nations to face being wiped off the map as global warming causes sea levels to rise. Floods and powerful hurricanes have already caused major damage, forcing citizens to flee to the capital or countries such as New Zealand..

In the film, Matthieu Rytz shadows Kiribati's dynamic former president, Anote Tong, on a global crusade to raise awareness of the watery fate awaiting many Pacific islands.

Tong pleads for the international community's help and hatches a plan to relocate his entire population - either to Fiji or an artificial floating island designed by a Japanese firm.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the telephone from his home in Bali, Rytz, 39, says he did not want to make a dry documentary about the science of climate change.

"There are already so many documentaries and reports out there talking about that. What I really want is to show how people are actually experiencing it in their daily lives," he says.

"So it's not just another film with scientists and talking heads and some B-roll footage of nature."

2. Kiribati could be the canary in the coalmine for the rest of the world

The film also follows a young Kiribati mother of six, Sermary Tiare, as she fights to migrate to New Zealand, where she must take a lonely, low-paying job so she can save up to bring over her family.

Rytz hopes seeing people being forced from their homeland and having their lives upended will bring home the reality of climate change.

"Most of us aren't facing this - we hear about it and think about it, and we might be scared or in denial. But one day, it might become a daily reality for the rest of us."

3. It highlights the issue of climate justice

Pacific Islands such as Kiribati have a far smaller carbon footprint than the world's biggest countries and polluters.

Yet they will disproportionately bear the brunt of that pollution, a point tactfully made by Tong as he travels the world speaking to world leaders and the United Nations.

"It was important for me to move the debate from climate change to climate justice," explains Rytz.

"Yes, we can try to slow down emissions globally, but we've already passed a tipping point and places like Kiribati are doomed. Even now when there is much less oil being burned because of the Covid-19 crisis, it's not stopping the ice from melting."

"So what are we going to do about this as a global community? It's a moral responsibility to address it at a human-rights level."

4. It is a fascinating portrait of a leader punching above his weight on the global stage

Tong, who was president of Kiribati from 2003 to 2016, is a compelling figure.

The son of a Chinese immigrant, he got his master's degree from the London School of Economics but still lives in very modest surroundings in Kiribati.

And yet he has become a major voice in climate change diplomacy.

"He managed to speak to world leaders such as former United States President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Pope. He became good friends with a lot of powerful leaders, and it was the most incredible personal journey," says Rytz.

Now 67, Tong continues to fight for climate change solutions even as the current government of Kiribati undoes many of his forward-thinking policies.

Rytz believes Tong's crusade is fuelled not just by the impending erasure of his country's land and culture, but also the future of his grandchildren.

"He has 14 grandkids he really loves and is always talking about, and he is wondering what kind of future he can build for them. That's what drives his passion and keeps him going."

Anote's Ark is available on

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