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Research in Film Awards Winners 2017: The Lived Experience of Climate Change

Project field site in Dhaka

Climate change presents us with a paradox. While it is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges we face as a species and will affect every one of us, at the same time it remains a subject we struggle to engage with on a personal level.

One winner of the 2017 Research in Film Awards is attempting to address this paradox by focusing intensely on the human experience of global warming.

The Lived Experience of Climate Change: A Story of One Piece of Land in Dhaka is a documentary about the impact of climate change on the everyday lives of people living in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh and their search for solutions.

The film provides a platform for those on the frontline of climate change to have their voices heard.

“Despite most research being publicly funded, it tends to reach a very narrow group of people, largely within the Academy,” says Dr Joanne Jordan, University of Manchester.

“This project aimed to engage with the widest variety of people possible to build awareness on climate change through a range of mediums.

“The film allowed us to bring the stories from the Dhaka slum dwellers to an even larger international and national audience, the Pot Gan performances were recorded to produce a film exploring the findings on the everyday realities of climate change.”

Since going online, the film has been viewed over 100,000 times, particularly on Facebook. While versions produced with Bengali subtitles have received as many views as those in English.

This remarkable film emerged out of Dr Jordan's long-term research on climate change adaptation in Bangladesh.

“All my research since my PhD has looked at local priorities and realities of climate change, trying to understand how communities perceive climate change, what impact climate change has, how that impact varies between different vulnerable groups within the community, and finally, what are the various response strategies they have developed,” she says.

“More broadly, I’m trying to answer why people act the way they act. Why do they make particular decisions? From there, I’m interested in why the impact and responses are so different — the differential can give us a huge insight into why some people and groups are more vulnerable than others.”  

“The key concern for me above all else was to ensure that we told a story that grappled with the everyday realities of living with climate change..."

The search for answers to these questions led Dr Jordan to team up with the University of Dhaka to produce an interactive theatre performance – a 'Pot Gan' – which encouraged slum dwellers, researchers, practitioners and policymakers to reflect on the urban poor’s day-to-day experiences of climate change. And it's this project that forms the focus of the film.

“The key concern for me above all else was to ensure that we told a story that grappled with the everyday realities of living with climate change, through the eyes of those that live on the climate change frontline,” says Dr Jordan.

“This was extremely challenging. But I hope we have at least partly achieved that with the stories and the script itself being based on the direct testimony and experiences of the people living in Duaripara, in North-west Dhaka. 

“We wanted to tell a story about real people with real lives and real loss. To do that, trust really matters. I spent several months working in Duaripara and that has been enormously helpful in building relationships with the very people that this research focused on.

“I have worked with an incredible team of people, the team at Green Ink and the University of Dhaka are not only talented, driven and passionate, about telling stories, but we had a relationship based on trust. It is crucial to work with people that you can trust to represent your research in a way that truly depicts ground realities.

Lead researcher Dr Joanne Jordan


“Many academics, like myself are not used to being in front of a camera so the entire process can be a bit daunting, especially when you are filming events unfold.

“The play was staged in the slum, and you have no idea how everyone will react to it! I think it is important to work with people that can put you at ease in these situations.”

But Dr Jordan needn't have worried about the community's reaction – in the end their response was overwhelmingly positive. “As we left, one woman stopped us and said: ‘It was like watching my life unfold in front of me,’” says Dr Jordan. “Those words made the whole project worthwhile.”

And this sense of immediacy and relevance seems to have also been felt by the film's audiences elsewhere around the world. While analysis is still ongoing, Dr Jordan says that more than 80% of those surveyed say they have learned something new about climate change while watching the film.

“Specifically, I hope the film challenges pre-existing notions of how slum dwellers experience and deal with climate change,” says Dr Jordan. 

“I hope it encourages others to consider engaging communities around the findings that they have been central to generating, and provide them with a chance to provide additional feedback on its key themes.” 

Read more about the winning films from the 2017 AHRC Research in Film Awards.

You can also watch a live stream of the awards ceremony, which were held at BAFTA 195 Piccadilly on Thursday 9th November, below.

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