Climate anxiety during tough times in lockdown led Waikato woman Sija Soman on a life-changing personal journey to capture hope amid the devastation of severe weather events.
Sija was studying for a Master’s degree in business and management when Covid-19 left her separated from her young daughter Akshika and husband Rajiv under New Zealand’s temporary travel restrictions.
“It was a very difficult time for me, as I didn’t have residency and had to wait three years to finally have it, which meant it was three years before I saw my daughter.
“I had a lot of time to think about my child, her future, climate change and Covid.”
Sija read an article about the devastation wrought by a one-in-100-year flood in Matatā and went to see for herself the impacts.
“I hadn’t heard about it in the local newspapers and when I saw this place for myself, it totally changed my perception of climate change and what it can do to people and communities.
“I saw only one house left standing there, with one couple who’d stayed and who were saying ‘we don’t want to go, if we die here then so be it.’”
She found herself asking the questions ‘What kind of world would we be leaving for our children? What can we do about climate change?’ which led her to dedicate herself to learning documentary filmmaking.
“I knew this medium is the most powerful and because climate change is a very intangible thing, seeing is believing.”
She reached out to other filmmakers and, self-taught, Sija says it was a huge learning curve to make the film.
Climate Commons premieres at the Lido Cinema, Hamilton, on 30 July and features Waikato-based researchers, scientists and a company featured in the film, from those working in innovating the growth of seaweed to clean up waterways.
“The connection to seaweed as part of the climate action story was not entirely new to me as I had worked for an organisation in the Middle East that converted seaweed to biofuel,” says Sija.
“I knew its potential, and I contact Love Rimurimu in Wellington who put me in touch with Paeroa company AgriSea, that is growing seaweed in a bioremediation trial to clean up water.”
She says she wanted to find out what is happening in the climate action space in New Zealand: “What we are actually doing about it, rather than just what are we talking about.
“It’s a bigger picture of what climate action looks like in New Zealand, and I hope it will inspire people to be hopeful and take action individually.”
The film led to a Climate Commons Movement, which is a nationwide alliance dedicated to tackling the climate crisis through knowledge sharing, practical action, and partnerships.
Sjia says it has a strong focus on scientific research, indigenous wisdom and practical solutions.
Individuals and organisations willing to host their own screenings of the film in locations around the country can ask for a toolkit to help them organise their own screening, and encourage local conversations about climate change.
The film highlights the power of local engagement.
“Climate change is a vast problem, but it has very local and personal impacts,” says Dr James Renwick. “This documentary makes the connection to all our lives and gives us powerful motivation for action. Action that we must take now, to avoid the worst of future consequences.”
Andrea Haines, President of the Hamilton Film Society, said digital storytelling played a role in reshaping narratives and driving transformative change. “The film’s emphasis on practical solutions will not only spark meaningful discussions but also inspire tangible actions among individuals, communities, and government agencies, and ignite a sense of responsibility that is crucial for Aotearoa’s climate response efforts.”
● The Details
What: Climate Commons documentary screening
When: July 30 at 4pm
Where: Lido Cinema, Hamilton
Tickets: online via Humanitix, $10