Anote's Ark


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Anote's Ark
"This quiet, documentary takes the viewer on an interesting, intriguing journey, ending on a question mark." | Photo: Matthieu Rytz

Opening with a boat adrift on a perfect blue ocean, Anote's Ark cannot help but be visually beautiful. It is, after all, the nature of tropical paradises to be, well, tropical and paradise-like.

And so it is. To begin, the camera does the walking (and much of the talking) for us. Here is a people and a way of life that many would envy: many, even, would argue we should aspire to. Simple people in harmony with nature.

Copy picture

All too soon, though, discordant notes emerge. An elderly islander building a stone wall. Young men giving up their fishing in order to build a more substantial sandbag barricade.

For this is Kiribati, a bunch of islands and atolls in the pacific straddling all four quadrants of the globe: North, South, East, West. And if even half the predictions for climate change are correct, then at some point in the next century, Kiribati will no longer be habitable.

Not just because it is no longer there – though the forecast is for large chunks of the present land mass to disappear beneath the waves – but because what is left will be too often subject to the vagaries of storm and flooding to allow continuing occupation.

So we move from present idyll to future nightmare. A loving mother, discussing her children and asking why people are not more concerned, to the harsh reality of international conferences and a papal audience for the President of Kiribati.

Anote's Ark is not without its own dark humour, as the camera cuts from islander dancing to the formality of the Swiss Guard and Papal Court. Our impulse, because this is what too many documentaries do, is to bless the former with a patronising smile: because “natives”; because naïve indigenous people.

Yet here, the more ridiculous are the Guard, their striped pantaloons juxtaposed to their solemn serious demeanour.

And slowly, this documentary builds the political case. The mother asking where they will go: Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, arguing with quiet dignity that climate change is a moral challenge, and we have not risen to it.

From the big picture to the small. Kiribati has bought land in Fiji: but what guarantees does that provide the islanders who would, at best, be guests in a foreign land; their presence subject to the will, the caprice of another sovereign state?

Here and there, we see islanders preparing to move, to other islands, to New Zealand and beyond. We see the worry in their faces, and we, if we have a heart, understand that this is migration from the migrant perspective. They are not “economic migrants”, planning to come over here and take away what is “ours”: but victims of a change in their lives imposed by our greed.

Perhaps there is another way. Perhaps the islanders can build their own island: the Ark of the title. Perhaps technology can save the day.


No spoilers....but this quiet, documentary takes the viewer on an interesting, intriguing journey, ending on a question mark.

There is little overt directorial presence from Director Matthieu Rytz – little commentary - though of course it is there in what the director chooses to show and how this film is seamed together.

For many years I wrote about climate change: large formal factual documents consumed by business people and politicians and commentators. Along the way I encountered AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States, which turned up regularly to stick an oar in at conferences on climate change. Because, of course, Small Island States will suffer first and in many cases, most.

In coverage of the issue, AOSIS often got a poor press: the awkward ghost turning up at the feast to pour cold water on everyone else's enthusiasm. This documentary demonstrates, in a way that ten such reports never could, the true seriousness of the situation, the human cost to humanity's carelessness, and the human side to the suffering.

If you want to know what climate change is likely to mean for real people, then watch Anote's Ark.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2018
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A documentary looking at the impact of climate change on the island nation of Kiribati.

Director: Matthieu Rytz

Year: 2018

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: Canada

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