Thirty years ago, Czechoslovak grief over a devastated landscape and lack of care for the environment was one of the forces propelling the Velvet Revolution. Soon after, the country took a deep breath of not only freedom but also cleaner air. Three decades later, however, grief over the climate situation is growing, clashing with ignorance and again becoming a source of rebellion.
Andrea Culková’s new documentary Grief (Žal žen), which will premiere at this years’ One World Festival in Prague (March 5-14th), brings audiences into this new, largely female led rebellion, eschewing the statistics and degrees of Celsius to instead discuss emotions and how environmental crisis-induced anxiety is producing activists across the country.
TRAILER LINK: https://vimeo.com/389504096
The film is being met by strong reactions across the political spectrum and is said to be controversial even within the screening commissions. Prague Daily Monitor was able to sit down and speak with Andrea about her new film and the controversy that is beginning to surround it.
Climate activism has been growing in Czechia, with demonstrations, university occupations and die-ins being held regularly over government inaction, including Czech versions of Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, which are featured heavily in the film.
Both former-President Vaclav Klaus and current President Milos Zeman, have stepped into the debate, with Zeman comparing climate activists to a ‘new religion’ in his Christmas address to the nation and questioning the validity of anthropogenic climate change.
Given the ignorance that still exists even in the higher echelons of society about the climate emergency, why make a film about emotions rather than just explaining the facts?
Andrea: We have known about the problem of climate change for decades. We have organized panel discussions, published thousands of charts about temperature and all the hard facts about climate change and its disastrous effects. And did we change anything? No! But last year, various movements changed the climate game by sending out strong emotions. And suddenly, things were set into motion. Finally.
That’s why Grief is about emotions rather than facts. I wanted to openly explore the feelings experienced when we see the balance between the planet and human beings threatened by imminent collapse. This documentary reveals the depth of climate grief in a very personal way and shows its role in climate awakenings and activism.
You mentioned in your description of the film that it is an opportunity for these rebels to share their grief. And they do. The first line of the trailer features a woman saying, ‘I’m afraid that humanity has fallen so deep into the abyss that there’s no way out anymore. And I’m afraid that we don’t give a damn.’ Many experts, including psychologists, have warned about presenting this kind of depressing vision of the future, suggesting it will create apathy and a sense of helplessness in dealing with the climate emergency, yet your film questions this. Why is it so important for people to express grief about this existential threat?
Andrea: Grief is a trigger of the transformative process. I see emotions and environmental sensitivity as one of the last things that we have to really make some big changes! We have been using pure rationality without any emotional sense for too long without any hard results. We have to understand that without the balanced environment of the planet, we are as a civilization clearly fucked. And we already see where we are heading, right? Continents are on fire, droughts all over, dying forests, no winters, etc… Yes, we can say this is not yet an apocalypse, but we see clear glimpses of that coming in the future.
We have a nice saying in the Czech language: ‘walking around hot porridge’. It means to be really careful not to show and name things as they are, with the intention of not being confronted with potential emotional reactions. Regarding the climate crisis, there is no more time to be timid. We have to name things and their consequences clearly, and we have to deal with people’s emotions.
Through deeply sensed grief, you can change yourself and you can grow strong and you are able to come from your safe, private zone and act towards real changes in society through civil disobedience.
Speaking of civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion (XR), a group often viewed as extreme and radical, is featured prominently in the film. Why do you think these activists have been drawn to a more radical side of activism rather than more traditional forms of protest?
Andrea: First of all, being silent, obedient and only pleasant and always reasonable hasn’t helped—where are we after so many years knowing the facts!? The situation is not getting better! And we all have to admit this! So, there is definitely room for more disturbing actions and events and for emotions!!! Without admitting the deep feelings about our inextricable dependence on Mother Earth, I doubt we can make the changes that are possible. But I would not say that XR is radical! I would say their actions reflect the seriousness of the situation. All XR people that I know are pretty kind and all of their actions are strictly peaceful. Where ordinary protest ends and radical action begins is always dependent on your personal view.
The film is causing controversy even among the screening commissions, prompting strong opinions from those who see it and causing heated debates long into the night. What is it about the film that is stirring up such strong reactions in those who see it?
Andrea: Emotions! It’s hard for many people to admit that the situation is so bad that emotions of grief are appropriate. People scream, ‘This can’t be the truth! Don’t tell me this is my future.’ The film has a simple structure, from grief and depression through personal change to actions. These actions are colourful, funny and really full of humour. But there are also super positive reactions towards the film—how sensitive it is, and how it gives viewers a chance to sneak into the heads and hearts of the protagonists so that we feel deeply for them and understand their motivations and follow their path.
The film is also predominantly about women. Indeed, the Czech title makes this more obvious, literally translating as ‘the Grief of Women’. Without perpetuating gender stereotypes, is there something about a woman’s perceived emotional sensitivity which makes them prone to this anxiety? And does this emotional acceptance allow them to be the adults in the room?
Andrea: Yes, I realized that women, or maybe it’s better to say people with a much stronger feminine aspect, are more sensitive and aware of our connectivity and total dependence on nature, and they are, thanks to their sensitivity and openness, more concise about the seriousness of the situation.
According to the study that was recently published, more women in parliament and government mean more progressive pro-ecological politics. Astghik Mavisakalyan is an economics professor at Australia’s Curtin University. She and a colleague examined the legislatures of 91 countries. They compared the percentage of seats held by women to the rigor of each country’s climate policies. They found that female representation in national parliaments does lead countries to adopt more stringent climate change policies.
It’s quite interesting because progressive politics wasn’t dependent on the country’s GDP per capita, education levels, and overall political orientation. They found that none of these other factors could fully explain the link between female leadership and climate policies. So, as you said, it’s probably the emotional acceptance which allows women to be the adults in the room.
One of the most controversial parts of the film is the acknowledgment that these women’s children are also experiencing their parents’ anxiety. How does the film approach the question of how to address the climate emergency with growing children? Is there any indication of how we as a society can continue to protect our children given the uncertainty over the future?
Andrea: In healthy families, kids and parents share their emotions. You know, even if you try to hide your emotions, kids feel them. And we create may be more problems hiding reality than being truthful. Of course, parents name things in a way which is appropriate for the age of their kids! But, of course, it’s not easy to deal with environmental grief knowing the reality and having small kids. As one our protagonists Iva says about her daughter: ‘For about a year now, I haven’t really been able to read those [encyclopaedia’s about animals and biotopes] with her, because then I’m showing her pictures that don’t have too much to do with reality anymore, and they will have even less in the future. Lots of the species in those pictures simply won’t exist.’
Finally, there are many many people currently experiencing forms of climate grief. What can viewers expect to take away from your film in helping them deal with this new environmental born anxiety?
Andrea: I think the film is kind of a healing session. You can go and heal yourself with our protagonists. And it is quite uplifting experience if you leave yourself open and go through it. As another protagonist Veronika says, ‘I realized the crisis is so deep that the only thing we can do is to live a real life and be true to ourselves. Because what else would make any fucking sense? Who are we kidding?’
Andrea Culková’s film Grief (Žal žen) will make its world premiere in Kino Svetozor’s large hall on Sunday, March 8th at 8:30pm, in addition to two other screenings, and it will be subtitled in English. Tickets can be purchased through the One World Festival site (https://www.oneworld.cz/2020/films-a-z/42844-grief). If you’re not in Prague, the film will also be screened across the country as part of the 35 city One World regional festival between March 14th and April 9th. More information can be found here (https://www.oneworld.cz/2020/regions).
Brad is a Canadian living in Prague for many years. He is a devoted film-maker, activist, writer and father – not necessarily in that order.