This year at Tribeca Festival, stories of climate change and resilience are not just on the big screen — they surround us. Four of the 2022 festival’s immersive films — Evolver, Mushroom Cloud NYC/RISE, Planet City VR, and Zanzibar: Trouble in Paradise — tackle environmental themes in a completely new way while still shining a much-needed light on the environmental issues and catastrophes we are facing and will face in the future.
Zanzibar: Trouble in Paradise opens with a breathtaking look at the seaweed farm where the documentary’s two main subjects, Nasiri and Hindu, work. As seaweed farmers, the two women have gained independence and stability in their lives. Unfortunately, though, the climate crisis leads to the death of the seaweed crop, forcing Nasiri and Hindu to find work elsewhere.
In its 10 minute runtime, the film brings audiences into the world of Nasiri and Hindu, painting a full picture of their lives while enumerating the impact climate change has on them.
While tragic, the hardship the women face is neither surprising nor uncommon. In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, author Rob Nixon defines slow violence as “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction across time and space, an attritional violence that is not typically viewed as violence at all.”
Nasiri, Hindu, and the other women they work with are on the receiving end of this slow violence; the death of the seaweed didn’t happen overnight nor can it be pinpointed to exactly one cause. Chemicals are added to the water, warming waters promote algae blooms and bacteria growth, and invisible plastic travels all over the world through the ocean’s currents.
Directors Ashraki Mussa Machano and Steven-Charles Jaffe capture a story that “the West” often overlooks: the effects of the climate crisis are already here and the crisis’ violence disproportionately affects places “out of sight.” Often these places, like Zanzibar, are under threat from climate change, which is only compounded by damage from capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism.
Zanzibar: Trouble in Paradise succeeds in its intimate look at the lives of these women who gain agency through their work, but are now contending with increased loss in the ecosystems, which not only impacts them, but their entire community. Upon leaving seaweed farming, Nasiri describes how she switched to being a sponge farmer, which is much more lucrative, but was also negatively impacted by the climate crisis.
For these women, there is no reprieve. Understanding the lives of Nasiri and Hindu — and the many people globally who are in similar situations due to the climate crisis — is crucial if we, as global citizens, are going to take action rooted in justice.
Seeing the film as an immersive experience just adds another layer on top of the message of Zanzibar: Trouble in Paradise. Stories create empathy. Stories create change. Experiencing both the beauty and devastation of climate change in Zanzibar is an agent of change.