Behind the Scenes Exploring Climate Q&As

The Shore Line Project turns the tide on environmental discourse

Shorelines are where half the world’s population lives, bursting with attractive greenery and many natural resources. But they are facing inherent risk due to rising seas and violent storms.

A compelling interactive documentary, “The Shore Line” utilizes powerful visualization techniques to unravel the intricate web of challenges and connections between communities and their shorelines in the face of unprecedented threats to coastal communities worldwide.

The Shore Line involves students and filmmakers from nine countries. Original Design, Helios Design Labs. theshorelineproject.org.

This innovative storybook unfolds across nine countries — Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Norway, Panama and the U.S. — from remote islands to bustling urban hubs and connecting with 43 individuals on the frontlines in 2017. Together, they collaboratively share tales of resilience and advocate for climate justice, actively seeking solutions for a sustainable future.

Storybench spoke to Elizabeth Miller about her motivations behind the production of “The Shore Line.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you come up with the idea? 

Miller: The shore line was this subject that many people have in common. The Shore Line Project and the design of this continuous landscape were a way of bringing together all of these disparate stories. We wanted something that had both the metadata, but also had this idea that everybody can feel that they are touched by or impacted by the proximity of a shore line. And by being close to a shore line, you’re both vulnerable to shifting weather patterns, like rising waters, but you’re also at the forefront of where water meets land, this kind of liminal space between stability and water. It had all of these very topical connections. The idea of five chapters was a way of saying there’s continuity. And yet, there are ways that we will experience this differently because of our city’s relatedness, because of where we are in the world, or where we are as individuals and the different issues that come up for different people.

Elke Van Breeman with students at Beachcombers Academy in “Lessons on the Coast”. Still by Liz Miller. theshorelineproject.org/#!/archive?People=Educator. Strategies for Enacting Polyphonic Practices

How long was the project in development?

I would say it took about two years. It took a year to gather all of the videos and about a year to put them into this interactive environment. I always like to say that the process is ongoing because you can make an online documentary, but unless it’s being used, then it doesn’t have value. So, the work is ongoing.

Still of Cable. Original Design by Helios Design Labs. theshorelineproject.org.

What were the biggest challenges that you faced in the project?

It was a project that involved so many different collaborators. We had filmmakers from different parts of the world, students and various other individuals engaged. I think it opens up numerous opportunities for different forms of engagement, and the process itself is a way of convening, a way of coming to know each other. So, that’s really exciting. But it can also be a challenge.

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I think one of the other challenges is distribution. The project is shared worldwide. Sometimes, I still get messages like “The site’s down,” or “Something’s happening,” as we take for granted the fixed nature of the internet. But at any moment, something can happen; it can get corrupted.

I would say the other challenge is we don’t want the audience to just engage with an online presence. We also want them to be in the world and come to know places. I think part of the challenge is also that now that you’ve interacted with this website, how do we encourage people to take the next step, which is to interact in the real world, with the sites around them, to be proactive in classrooms, to be proactive in their environments, to take the next step beyond familiarity with issues and watching a website into doing something in the world?

How can visual storytelling techniques effectively communicate the global threats of climate change?

Something that was very important in this project was the soundscapes. Often, we focus on the visual. But listening is a way that we can tune into local environments and actually begin to understand them more. One of the things that we wanted to do was really highlight sound as a way of paying attention. I think that listening is so important as a prompt to respect our local environments, rather than trying to modify, change and control them. It’s really about coming to know them. I think that was one important element of this multimedia component. I believe multimedia makers should be trained to listen as biologists are trained to listen. All of us need to listen more to what the environment is saying to us so that we can give it a break, instead of trying to modify it, but really learn to live better with it.

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What was the biggest surprise working on the project?

The gift of any documentary project, to me, is really the ability to learn about these places all over the world. I have to say, the surprise was just the ingenuity of people, both in crisis and in complicated situations, to come up with creative responses. Learning about a teacher in Bangladesh who created these boats powered by solar energy that could be used to teach young people in the midst of the floods. There was just so much and that tapped into local knowledge, and that ensured that young girls didn’t have to miss classes. I think the surprise was the range of inner creativity that was playing out in all these small communities. I couldn’t help but be inspired by that.

Sabira Khalili
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