Elena Brunello on Peace Boat

From the Ship

Elena Brunello: Exploring Climate Migration Through Documentary Film

Jul 13, 2023

Reaching Colombo, Sri Lanka, Peace Boat was pleased to welcome Elena Brunello on the 114th Global Voyage as an onboard guest educator. As an Italian documentary producer and content creator, Elena was excited to have the opportunity to share her story of how content creation has helped highlight the climate change-migration nexus in her two-week embarkation on Peace Boat. Elena’s story begins with her volunteer experience on the Greek island of Leros which inspired her artistic and journalistic exploration into the topic of migration. This led to the development of her first documentary Bee My Job which depicts the story of a Senegalese political refugee working as a beekeeper in Italy. A year later, she directed her second documentary The Climate Limbo which dives into the connection between climate change and human migration. 

Addressing global issues through non-fiction film

As a program and outreach coordinator for The Video Consortium, the largest non-fiction filmmaker community in the world, Elena was pleased to lecture on topics such as the strengths and weaknesses of documentaries, conduct film-making workshops for participants to experiment with various mediums, and screen both of her documentaries followed by interactive Q&A sessions. She suggested that once participants find a story they want to tell, to try to find a perspective because “the same story can be told through different angles,” and to always consider the importance of the relationship they have with the character they are filming with.  

Elena Brunello during a workshopElena Brunello during a film-making workshop

Bee My Job emphasizes both the importance of bees to the livelihood of mankind and also on how the upkeep of bees was an opportunity for another culture to mend with Italian culture. Elena compared the experiences of bees’ importance and migration by stating “Bees are necessary to keep the environment contaminated and thus diverse, as well as human migrations contribute to a culturally and human diverse environment. “ In the year preceding the documentary release, 75 asylum seekers and refugees – both men and women, range of ages, and 10 nationalities – became involved in the project. Elena tells a captivating story following the protagonist, Abdul, who sought refuge in Italy after fleeing from the Casamance region in Senegal. Also focusing on researchers’ recent discovery  that 1 in 10 of Europe’s wild bee species are at risk of extinction due to intensive farming and heavy insecticide use, both of which are heightened by climate change effects. This is of serious concern considering bees are responsible for sustaining the planet’s ecosystems through their major role in pollinating 80 percent of plants, including a third of what humans eat. Elena saw the important connection that could be made between the two storylines. 

Bee My JobDiscussing the themes of Bee My Job

In 2019, Elena released her second documentary The Climate Limbo which depicts the future of climate change disasters with how climate change affects migration patterns, further negatively impacts poverty and wars, and is predicted to displace between 250 to 300 million people by 2050. Elena was able to depict the emergence of the term “climate refugees”, one that has growing concerns considering between 2008 and 2016 millions of people were displaced around the world due to environmental disasters. The documentary follows the journey of climate refugees, scientists, and Mediterranean farmers whose livelihoods have been greatly affected due to climate change. The three protagonists of The Climate Limbo include Queen who had fled Nigeria due to environmental damage to her community because of oil, Rubel who had fled from the life-threatening floods in Bangladesh, and a family of Italian farmers who faced desertification and lack of biodiversity causing unsuccessful harvesting. Elena focused on telling the story of The Climate Limbo through multiple lenses placed in different geographical areas to show that the issue of climate change is affecting people everywhere making the threat of becoming a climate refugee one to anyone everywhere. 

Elena’s message as a filmmaker has continued to transpire into 2023 by making clear the need for balance of the ecosystem, the importance to make space for cultural contamination to occur, and to welcome those fleeing in the hope that they will find safety elsewhere, just as the protagonists did in Bee My Job and The Climate Limbo in their stories of adaptation and reintegration. 

It all started with elephants