One of the things about environmental and global warming documentaries is that they never give a detailed face to the very real prospect of our planet being annihilated by an ecological disaster, while we tearfully put down our family members to save them from suffering. The Age of Stupid (2009) sort of did this but it was more of the exception to the rule. An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and Before the Flood (2016) gave much needed facts and figures, but without a human face to show the effects of climate change they lack the pathos which would help their message hit harder.
Filmed over several years Thank You for the Rain (2017) is a documentary that not only gives us a face from the frontline of the fight against climate change, it also allows them to speak in their own words.
Kisilu Musya is a Kenyan farmer trying to establish tree planting community groups in his district. Kisilu knows that by tree planting they can help offshoot some of the damages of climate change to their farms, and with Kenya being withered by a drought during its supposedly rainy season tree planting will help keep nutrients locked in the soil. All too soon, however, a violent storm lays waste to the small farms of Kisilu and his neighbours. From there the film records Kisilu’s journey from farmer to community leader to activist on the global stage, attending the Paris climate summit to speak on behalf of dry land farmers.
Usually with documentaries about activists you tend to get the filmmakers version of the story, not the activist. But Thank you for the Rain’s unique selling point comes from filmmaker Julia Dahr’s decision to let Kisilu have the camera. The film is interspliced with entries from Kisilu’s video diary which shows not the confident and optimistic activist of Dahr’s footage but a man that worries that his family won’t have enough to eat, that his children won’t be able to attend school because his harvest is ruined and he can’t afford the fees. It shows his fears of famine and illness that could wipe out his family and village. It shows Kisilu’s wife, Christina, as she is left to care for the farm and children as his mission takes its toll on their family while another year with violent storms and droughts destroys the land.
It gives a bitter take on the Paris climate summit with the petty bickering of nations, and accuses the deal and the world leaders of providing little more than half measures and do-nothing promises. Even these are rendered hollow with the inclusion of an interview of Trump during the summit, given what can only be described as his unique take on climate change and a dark reminder of who’s running the show. Kisilu’s anger is justified as those at the bottom suffer because of the actions of a select few who seem immune to the suffering of their citizens.
I would call it compelling; yet there are moments of everyday life throughout it that break the flow. I would call it poignant yet throughout Kisilu’s passion and love of his family is contagious. In the end it is what it is; the story of those suffering under the effects of violent climate change. The human face Kisilu provides makes it more hard hitting than many previous documentaries.
Dir: Julia Dahr
Prd: Hugh Hartford
Cast: Julia Dahr, Kisilu Musya, Christina Kisilu
Country: Norway /UK
Runtime: 90 minutes
EXTENDED RUN AT DOCHOUSE – 17 NOVEMBER ONWARDS