Review: ‘Anote’s Ark’

Hot Docs 2018

6 mins read

Anote’s Ark
(Canada, 77 min.)
Dir. Matthieu Rytz
Program: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)


“Climate change is the greatest moral challenge for humanity,” proclaims Anote Tong in Anote’s Ark. “We haven’t risen to the challenge.”

Call Anote Tong the eco hero of Hot Docs 2018. The former President of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati is a strong advocate for global action on climate change. Action is a matter of survival for Kiribati. The nation of 33 low-lying islands and atolls is expected to be wiped off the face of the Earth by the century’s end due to rising sea levels. Anote’s Ark observes Tong’s tireless fight to save his people and ensure that other world leaders perceive the seemingly inconsequential nation as an urgent symbol in the fight to redress global warming. The stakes rise with the tide. The clock is ticking for the small island nation on a scale rivalled only by the waters of Old Testament wrath.

Director Matthieu Rytz expresses the urgency of the situation by capturing the scale of Kiribati and its plight with awesome power. The cinematography by Rytz (also a photographer by trade) offers a striking array of wide, panoramic shots from the coast and the water to let audiences drink in the tropical paradise that the island nation could be in ideal weather. The relative tininess of Kiribati, however, ensures that Tong’s country is engulfed by the waters that already surround it—an image of its fate to come. The land mass might be a small drop in a big ocean, but the earnestness of the fight for the island is hardly insignificant.

Rytz captures the struggle for Kiribati on scales both personal and political. The scope of Anote’s Ark is sweeping yet intimate as Rytz focuses on the fate of the nation through two sets of eyes: those of Tong as he appeals to world leaders and those of Sermary, a pregnant mother who migrates to New Zealand in search of a new home for her family. The film witnesses the struggle for a community that foretells the fates of generations to come as Sermary resigns herself to the fact that her child to be may never set foot on her homeland. Tong refuses to give up the fight and the doc sees the politician in action with a conviction that more world leaders desperately need.

Here lies the urgency that makes Anote’s Ark so compelling. The last stand for the people of Kiribati is inextricably linked to the world’s collective response to climate change. Tong most often receives the suggestion simply to move somewhere else, but picking up and leaving sounds easy only if one’s own home and community are not on the line. When suggestions are made to consider relocating Kiribati to land in another nation, NIMBYism flares up and the Kiribati people are treated as an inconvenience. Tong accepts the responsibility of ensuring that the rising tides will not displace, scatter, or separate his people. Sermary’s story, however, illustrates how few people can afford to wait out the storm. They need action.

Tong explores methods both political and scientific to save his nation. Rytz follows the former president to the COP 21 climate change summit in France where world leaders made a show of solidarity. Cut to two years later, however, and Trump’s pulled out of the UN sponsored agreement and Trudeau is more concerned with scoring retweets than with enacting positive change. The fallacy of the Paris talks hit hard. “This is an act of war and we don’t have the means to counter,” Tong grumbles while seeing the fate of his home in the hands of global indifference.

While too many politicians continue to ignore the evidence for climate change—and Rytz provides more than enough proof of its effect on Kiribati—Tong might be able to save his nation through science. A trip to Japan introduces a concept that looks like a scale model from a James Bond movie when scientists present Tong with a system for moving his nation into the deep sea. This aquatic high-rise can withstand the waves that will engulf Kiribati if the world refuses to be moved, but it costs hundreds of billions of dollars and still displaces his people, albeit collectively.

Through Tong’s world-weary eyes and stalwart effort to inspire change, Anote’s Ark creates a compelling study of one man’s plight to fight global warming and our collective need to respond. If not, the forecast sees billions of people adrift without a paddle. How much higher must the water rise?

Anote’s Ark screens:
-Tues, May 1 at 6:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema with director Matthieu Rytz and former president of Kiribati Anote Tong in attendance
-Wed, May 2 at 10:15 AM at TIFF Lightbox
-Fri, May 4 at 1:00 PM at TIFF Lightbox

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit for more info.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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