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What does the film Thank You for the Rain teach us about climate change?

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Reading time: 2 minutes

Sheffield Doc/Fest review: As a climate change researcher, I found Julia Dahr's film a must-see documentary.
A still from the film Thank you for the Rain

In Julia Dahr’s film Thank You for the Rain we are introduced to Kisilu, an educated Kenyan farmer. Kisilu has a plan to make his region resilient to climate change by planting trees.

He knows that the world is changing to become a planet of extremes – drier, wetter and hotter – something that is shown graphically in the movie.

The challenge for Kisilu to do something is compounded by his desire to be a good father and spend time with his family. He refuses to leave them and earn money in the city, believing this is a short-term solution.

For Kisilu, the only chance for his family comes from making Kenya more resilient in the long term.

Before the titles roll, we are shown a beautiful panoramic shot of the night sky over the Kenyan savannah. The director, Julia Dahr, tells Kisilu that she thinks the sky is beautiful. But he responds that it isn’t – if we can see the stars, there are no clouds. And if there are no clouds, there will be no rain. Simple wisdom indeed.

The film begins with a village meeting where the region is struggling with a drought. The blistering heat and the parched land is the worst in living memory, and the villagers have met to pray and discuss what to do.

Enter Kisilu, who outlines a solution to the problem – tree planting combined with intercropping agriculture. Kisilu explains this would improve the local climate, stabilise the soil and raise the water table, as well as having long-term climatic benefits.

The villagers couldn't look more uninterested or disbelieving regarding Kisilu’s concern about climate change and his proposal – it seems people can be the same the world over.

However, Kisilu is undaunted. He continues with his strategy and ultimately succeeds, starting a number of tree planting initiatives across the region.

The film also shows us that environmental action groups are often harder to nurture than tree saplings. That said, Kisilu succeeds at both, but at a cost – he must spend less time with his family in order to save them. This is a dilemma that many environmental activists face.

Finally, Kisilu is invited to speak at the Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015. The event seen through his eyes is both inspiring and insane, but mostly heart-rending.

Kisilu realises that, in spite of his effort and personal sacrifice, those in power are not going to make the level of commitment he hoped for. His frustration consumes him as he says, ‘If I had power, I would take these leaders to live in my village to starve.’

But although there is darkness in the film, it is ultimately uplifting. Kisilu inspires us through the actions of a man with virtually nothing, doing what he can and making a real difference. This is a must-see documentary that offers a model for any wannabe environmental activists.

John’s research areas include urban food production, sustainable construction, renewable energy and climate change.

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