The new documentary Losing Ground by filmmaker Jenni Monet (Laguna Pueblo) tells the story of 420 Iñupiat Eskimos from the Alaskan village of Kivalina. Located on an eight-mile-long island off the west coast of Alaska, the residents of Kivalina are some of the first to experience the devastating effects of climate change. Relying on a subsistence based economy, harvesting fish and whales from the sea, the residents draw their livelihood from an ocean that is slowly eroding their island, their home and their way of life.
“Due to the circumstances, Kivalina residents are trying anything they possibly can to find the money to move off the island,” said Monet. Despite Kivalina being on the climate change endangered communities list for the state of Alaska, state agencies don’t know how to raise the money to do anything about the situation. The lack of funds has left Kivalina’s residents facing an uncertain future.
Erosion experts have determined that Kivalina’s island has anywhere from ten to thirty years remaining before it will be uninhabitable. The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed moving villagers to nearby communities. “To imagine what it must be like to separate a community, to remove it from anything that it has ever known is unconscionable, not only for the people that live there, but once you spend time there as an outsider,” says Monet.
While filming in Kivalina, Monet has gathered the human story on the issue of climate change. “Climate change is what brought me there,” explains Monet, “but now it’s turned into the backdrop of the story, and we’re focusing on Kivalina as a microcosm of what’s happening to poor indigenous people around the world confronted with climate change.” Monet focuses her film on the determination of Kivalina’s residents to save their way of life and community amidst great odds.
Monet began her career as a television news journalist and later turned to filmmaking. The Fort Lewis broadcasting graduate opted for filmmaking because she discovered the limitations of story-telling within a television news format. Her film productions range from politically charged works to lighthearted films void of politics and controversy. Monet is currently finishing production on Losing Ground (working title). She has a number of films in development. All of her productions tell native peoples’ stories through their own perspectives and voices.
Written by Ben Kreimer.
Interview conducted and editing done by Ben Kreimer.