GVSU-made film tells stories from Michigan about climate change and resilience

A documentary exploring the hopeful stories of people in Michigan working to find climate change solutions is set to premiere with a campus screening.

"Climate Sisu: the stories of climate resilience from Northern Michigan” is a production involving Grand Valley faculty and recent alumni. It tells stories from an array of people across Michigan involved in climate action, from scientists to farmers to urban planners, with the message that people can effect change even if the crisis feels overwhelming, said Elena Lioubimtseva, professor of geography and sustainable planning and one of the film's producers.

The film's premiere is set for 7:30 p.m. April 6 at the Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

The term "Sisu," a Finnish concept that denotes strength, determination and resiliency to overcome the most difficult challenges, emerged as the ideal name for the film – especially given the deep Finnish heritage in the Upper Peninsula, Lioubimtseva said.

A hallmark of the film is presenting an urgent call to action steeped in optimism, Lioubimtseva said. People in the state are working to find meaningful solutions, creating community resilience.

MORE: Watch a trailer for 'Climate Sisu'

A sandy beach runs into water with wispy clouds in a blue sky.

Lioubimtseva understands how heavily the doom and gloom of the climate crisis weighs on people, particularly the younger population. But she said that kind of thinking is dangerous because it thwarts efforts to solve problems.

"You can't imagine how often I hear from my students, who come to me and ask, 'Should I still marry? Should I have children? How will I have a normal life?'" Lioubimtseva said. "The role of the environmental educator today is to not just teach students about climate change, but it's important to help them understand that they can engage in climate action and they can be part of the climate movement." 

The film was done under the umbrella of the GVSU Climate Change Education Solutions Network, which is a collaborative of Grand Valley faculty, students and staff as well as K-12 educators and community partners to provide climate change education for all ages. 

The film was supported by a Michigan Space Grant, Lioubimtseva said. The filmmakers also received grant funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship and the Center for Scholarly and Creative Excellence.

Four people smile while posed in front of boards that have titles of "Upsides," "the "Science" and "Local Effects.
A person adjusts a camera while two other people look on.
Here are some moments from the filming of "Climate Sisu."

The documentary's other producers are Kristin Davis, '22, and Leah Anderson, '20, both of whom worked with Lioubimtseva as students.

Davis, who studied film and production at GVSU, was inspired by the climate change passion from all of those interviewed. Davis recalled how one interview helped convey "how nature speaks to us sometimes. You feel at peace and I think it can open your eyes."

Working on this film and engaging in other content related to climate change has helped Davis see that a negative mindset about the issue and responding out of fear is not the most productive approach.

"I started seeing how positively these educated people were talking about climate change and that it opens more doors for you and allows you to move forward instead of being stuck in your own head about a lot of this," Davis said.

Anderson started working with Lioubimtseva in 2019 as the Climate Change Education Solutions Network was getting off the ground. Anderson is now pursuing a master's degree in Colorado but returned to Michigan over the summer to help with the documentary.

"'Climate Sisu' emphasizes climate resiliency through storytelling and I feel so fortunate to have worked on this project," Anderson said. "As someone who was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula, I grew up hearing the term 'Sisu,' which represents determination and perseverance. This documentary encapsulates the meaning of Sisu and it has truly been a passion project."


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