“Culture has a more lasting memory”: New (literature and) film festival about climate change

Pressing ecological questions have attracted the interest of fictional writers for quite a while now. In more recent decades – and currently in increasing speed – the focus of interest of some of them shifted towards catastrophic effects of climate change. Their works are part of the broad and only loosely defined genre of climate fiction, or CliFi.

But only in 2020 the first Climate Fiction Festival took place. This was last november, in Berlin, under pandemic conditions.

In its 2021 edition the festival’s initiator, the Climate Cultures Network Berlin, will not only present literature, but also films. Planet schreibt zurück! Klima im Kulturkontakt (“Planet writes back! Climate in Culture Contact”) is funded by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe and will be held in German and English language and rely on the help of interpreters. On three days in November the literature critic Martin Zähringer, together with curator Jane Tversted, plan to put in focus three topics: arctic climate cultures, petro modernity and climate in science fiction.

From Zähringer’s perspective, the origin of climate fiction can be traced back to, among others, Frank Herbert’s novel Dune from 1965, which plays in an inhospitable desert wasteland. CliFi can also be detected in artistic works like Khairos, a Norwegian “on & offshore-opera” from 2013, set on an oil rig, which denounces our waste of resources. One of Zähringers guests in 2020 was Sina Kamala Kaufmann, Extinction Rebellion activist and author of Helle Materie (2019), which discusses what-if scenarios for the near future.

It is worth pointing out that his festival project is in considerable contrast to the “perspectives for action in science communication” which were presented on June 23, 2021 by the German Minister of Science, Anja Karliczek. Elaborated by a think tank called #FactoryWisskomm the document discusses needs, goals, competences, measures, and visions, “to understand the exchange between science and society even better in view of the great challenges of our time, to strengthen it structurally and to promote it in a targeted manner”.

Martin Zähringer, on the other hand, pins his hopes on literature, film and arts. “Media are too quick. They overwhelm people. Culture has a more lasting memory, people are influenced in a more lasting way.” He therefore aims at connecting “climate cultures”. Climate is perceived on a local scale, he says, and it influences culture, traditions, memories. “It has always been a natural force which contributed to shape local cultures. But now it is destroying them.” This highly threatening process, however, can also be made fruitful, Zähringer believes. “Knowledge about climate exists everywhere in the local consciousness. In view of the global climate crisis it has to be interconnected and perceived collectively.”

Ivalo Frank, who has been the long-time director of the Greenland Eyes International Film Festival, will curate the film section of the festival. Elizabeth Kolbert, a wellknown author (most recently: Under a White Sky – The Nature of the Future) and environmental expert for the New Yorker has been invited to a panel together with Harald Welzer, a renowned German social psychologist focussing on, among others, cultural studies in the field of climate change.

To fight the global climate crisis, Zähringer says, we have to go for “the accumulated knowledge of all actors in our civilization”.

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