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Film About Sinking Island Nominated for Oscar

'Sun Come Up' explores life in a warmer world

This man ponders his fate as he looks out to Huene, an island in the Carteret bisected by the sea 20 years ago.
This man ponders his fate as he looks out to Huene, an island in the Carteret bisected by the sea 20 years ago.

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Rosanne Skirble

The serious consequences of Earth's changing climate are the subject of a powerful documentary film nominated for an Academy Award, the U.S. film industry’s top prize.

"Sun Come Up" is the story of the Carteret Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea, where filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn says Islanders have had no choice but to move to higher ground.

"We documented some of the destruction that is happening from rising sea levels, more frequent storm surges, from the lack of fresh water sources and how the sea has contaminated some of their gardening land."

Our planet is warming. Average global temperatures have climbed about one degree Celsius since the last century and at an accelerated rate in recent decades. And scientists believe the global warming trend is responsible for an increased severity of droughts, floods, and storms across the globe, and slowly rising ocean levels.

Ursula Rakova grew up on the Carteret Islands. "In those times the sea wasn't as cruel as it is today," she says. By 2015, her homeland is expected to be under water, so she now heads the relocation effort for 3,000 people.

Among them is Carteret elder John Sailik, who laments the fate of the island chain. "When I was a little boy, my very special thing was fishing with my spear on the wave. I'll be losing the reef and losing this happiness of the island. I'll be missing the sound of waves at night and I'll be listening to it no more."

Elders among the Carteret, pictured here at a relocation meeting on Piul Island, hold memories of happier days but now must seek shelter elsewhere.
Elders among the Carteret, pictured here at a relocation meeting on Piul Island, hold memories of happier days but now must seek shelter elsewhere.

Director Redfearn says the Carteret islanders are among the world's first climate refugees.  The International Organization for Migration predicts the number of people displaced by rising ocean levels will grow to 200 million by 2050. Redfearn is hopeful that the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject will stimulate greater public awareness of the real human and environmental costs of climate change.

"I want to move people. I want to either make them angry, make them sad, make them frustrated, and I want to take that anger and that frustration and that sadness and turn that into action."

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