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Loyola Professor Plans to Travel to Pacific island, Teach Locals to Create Documentaries

Courtesy of Stefan LinsA Loyola professor and students plan to travel to Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, in order to equip locals with storytelling skills so they can preserve their culture before the island becomes uninhabitable due to climate change.

Loyola representatives are heading across the world to global warming’s “poster child” — an island called Tuvalu which could disappear in decades as a result of the warming planet — for the creation of a documentary in the perspective of the residents. 

The island’s disappearance could mean people would have to move off the island, leaving their homes and culture behind.

John Goheen, a film professor at Loyola, along with three students is embarking on the trip to the island nation in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii — consisting of fewer than 11,000 people, according to Goheen.

Goheen said he chose Tuvalu for the subject of the documentary because scientists are predicting the island could be uninhabitable in roughly 20 years due to rising sea levels. 

The documentary will be unusual because Goheen’s team will be teaching Tuvalu’s youth how to film, so they can decide what and how their story will be told, he said.

“The youth of Tuvalu are the ones that are most vulnerable and at risk,” Goheen said. “They’re the ones that potentially may have to move away and not get to live in their homeland.”

Aaron Durnbaugh, the director of sustainability at Loyola, said the one of the major results of global warming is sea level rise.

With the rapid increase in ice melting and water expanding, there’s only so much small island nations such as Tuvalu can do, according to Durnbaugh. 

John Goheen, a film professor at Loyola, is in charge of the trip to Tuvalu.
Olivia Miller | The Phoenix

“It’s happening very slowly, even though it seems like it’s happening incredibly fast, you don’t see it everyday,” Durnbaugh said. “It’s not like one day you walk out and the sea is higher.”

Durnbaugh said the islands most heavily impacted aren’t necessarily tourist resorts, so these nations don’t always have the resources or money to help themselves.

“These are folks that are living closer to the land and their economies aren’t as robust, so all it takes is that one event that one storm to come through and really wide out decades of investment,” Durnbaugh said. 

The plan is for the team to work with around 20 young adults who speak both English and Tuvaluan, according to Goheen. 

Goheen said communicating with people in Tuvalu has been difficult due to a lack of access to technology on the island, so many details are unknown. 

“I can’t even really call them because they just don’t have the resources and the ability to do that,” Goheen said. “A lot of it is on faith. … We’re going to go there, and we’ll take what we can get, and we’ll make something special.”

The team leaves for Tuvalu May 28 and will shoot the documentary for two weeks, according to Goheen. 

Goheen said the project is largely self-funded. Every person pays their own way, including travel, room and board totaling to about $4,000 per person, while the film equipment is borrowed from Loyola.  

Kaitlin McMurry, a graduate digital media and storytelling student at Loyola who’s going on the trip, said she hopes the documentary gives climate change a “human face” by showing the struggles people deal with everyday. 

“I want people to be as passionate about the environment as I am,” McMurry, 27, said. “I want them to see that this is actually happening, and it’s affecting communities, and if we don’t do anything about it, this is what’s going to happen in the United States, too.”

McMurry said in addition to creating the documentary with the team, she wants to create her own film while she’s there. 

“I would like to document their culture specifically because if they’re forced to move off of Tuvalu, I think some of their culture will be lost,” McMurry said.

Jacob Pieczynski, a graduate digital media and storytelling student at Loyola who’s going on the trip, said the trip is more than furthering his film career, it’s spreading awareness to help others. 

“In the United States and a lot of western places, it’s really easy to have the privilege to not think about climate change and how it’s affecting us,” Pieczynski said. “This is an entire country that might lose their culture. It’s young people that might not be able to die in the place that they were born.”

Pieczynski said he didn’t know about Tuvalu before being asked to go on the trip. 

“I think that’s a big part of why the story needs to be told,” Pieczynski, 22, said. “People probably don’t realize there are entire countries that are at stake and entire people’s ways of lives that could disappear because of the effects of climate change.”

Tuvalu is one of many island nations being threatened by the rising sea levels, according to Durnbaugh. 

“It feeds into the larger dialogue on how’re we going to function as our own country, but also as a global community of countries trying to address climate change,” Durnbaugh said. 

The footage taken on the island will be edited by the team and other students who wanted to attend the trip but couldn’t afford it, Goheen said. 

The goal is for the documentary to be finished by the end of the calendar year and will be between 60 and 90 minutes, according to Goheen. Netflix, Hulu and HBO are a few of the platforms the film will be offered to, Goheen said. 

“There’s more places for documentaries today than ever,” Goheen said. “If it turns out as well as I think it will, I think it will have a lot of interest for people wanting to see it.”

Goheen said he hopes the documentary will not only spread the word about climate change but contribute to resolving the crisis. 

“When somebody sees something, it sparks a new idea, and it engages them in ways they might not even think about,” Goheen said.

Correction: The original version of this article said Pieczynski was 26, but he’s actually 22.

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