Stormy Weather

Ecological artist Laura Donkers shares Stormy Weather, a short film that conveys collective collusion in climate change through a combination of verbal message, moving film image, and soundscapes of storm, bird song and dance music that pulls the viewer into the personal and collective experience of Cyclone Gabrielle in Aotearoa New Zealand in February 2023.



Stormy Weather (MP4 4:07min) is a film poem conveying the domestic experience of an extreme weather event on 14th February 2023, as Cyclone Gabrielle tracked across North Island, New Zealand. A pause to reflect on human behaviour and our interactions with nature and weather at a time of climate change.

Laura Donkers is an ecological artist and researcher connecting people with ecology through community projects and outdoor art workshops to inform more creative and sustainable ways to live.

 

After enduring Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, which was classed as an extreme weather event in Aotearoa New Zealand, I wanted to create a short film that subtly conveys the theme of collective collusion on climate change. But rather than a climate-disaster thriller, my short film would offer a sensitive portrayal of the impact that an extreme weather event has on everyday lives by combining filming of the actual storm with recordings of public warnings by politicians and subsequent citizen testimony recounting the impact of landslides and flooding.

I created Stormy Weather to be a film [as] poem to express both my personal encounter with the cyclone and as collective experience via the harrowing public testimony that emerged in newsreels after the event. The film poem genre combines three main elements: a verbal message, the moving film image, and a soundscape of diegetic sounds, such as the storm, bird song and dance music, which pull the viewer into the world of the video. This approach presents a compelling illusion to trigger personal associations in the viewer towards their own thought processes and experiences. But rather than imagined, the imagery, sound and text relate to a real, recent happening that further resonates with the audience’s own lived experience.

In the opening scene we can hear the voice of the NZ Prime Minister responding to reporters’ questions about extreme weather events and climate change. A recording of the 1933 sentimental love song ‘Stormy Weather’ (written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler) begins to play. Reflected in the darkening windows via shadowy rhythmic movements and silhouetted figures, we witness a couple dancing. At first, their swaying movements are matched by the fern trees outside. As the storm activity builds the trees’ animation becomes more extreme and acoustic tension rises in the audio recording. The dance sequence ends, and the music continues but gets drowned out by the storm’s growing intensity.

At the start, the closed windows shut out the weather, nature and climate change. Yet, the illuminated darkness forces us to observe the wildness taking place outside while the shadows and reflections of the interior action show in some way the bizarre continuation of everyday lives in the face of such powerful forces: a subtle dig at our lack of willingness to face up to climate reality (dancing while the land is sliding).

The sound makes the drama and violence of the storm hit home, which helps us consider the noises we ‘drown out’ with the ones we create for ourselves. By decreasing the volume of the news reports the usual anthropocentric hierarchy is reordered with human voices assigned the ambient sound role to subtly shift the focus onto nature’s sounds.

Eventually, the storm ends, and morning arrives. The sound track transitions into a cacophony of cicada and bird calls. We see that the house is still standing, and the sun is shining. The windows are open, causing the fern trees to occupy the liminal space between house and environment. Peace has returned. Yet in the background we hear a report that others have not been so fortunate: the reporter states that 35,000 residents have been displaced as a result of unprecedented rainfall causing widespread flooding and landslips.

With the windows open a threshold is created that accommodates our appreciation and desire for nature but only in certain conditions. Here the sounds and images provide space for reflection in contrast to the earlier dramatic scenes. Yet the gentleness of these lies in stark contrast to the horror expressed in the selected texts that appear randomly across the screen. The final extract stays with the viewer as the film ends.

Stormy Weather brings a different perspective to discussions around climate change towards a more truthful and helpful direction through its use of a domestic setting and domestic actions which contrast with the world ‘outside’. It reflects back to us some of our behaviours and interactions with nature and climate in a way that makes us pause, think and create space for conversation.

This film poem presents Cyclone Gabrielle as a transformative phenomenon that changes how the climate crisis is viewed by the people directly affected, as well as those looking on. Its domestic proximity evokes a state of suspense that develops into an awesome (and for some) life-changing experience, revealing a world where climate change is acknowledged as present and real, thus concentrating our attention and altering our perceptions towards behaviour change. A pivotal ‘happening’ that will alter the destiny of our current situation.


You can find Laura’s film here on her website, with more of her work. Laura has written two posts for ClimateCultures about her work with the embodied knowledge of communities: Eco-social Art — Engaging Climate Literacy and ‘What You Need Will Come to You’.

The Wizard of O2

“Now you must be careful. The Wicked Weather of the West is a cunning shapeshifter.”

Quentin D. Young‘s comic-book, The Wizard of O2 re-imagines the classic tale to bring us back to the Land of Oz for a 21st-century adventure in science and magic, creating space for humor and hope in the face of climate catastrophe.


Scarecrow: “Now you must be careful. The Wicked Weather of the West is a cunning shapeshifter. For me, she came in the form of a drought. Dried out the crops and put me out of a job!”

Lion: “For me, she was a fiery heatwave that killed the little animals. All the yummy ones too. Now I’m a starving performer, and Scarecrow uses the money to buy cat food!”

Dolores: “What about Tin Man? Where’s he?”

Quentin Young is a writer, climate communicator and emerging comic creator working creatively as a storyteller with the aim of reaching mainstream audiences on the issue of climate change.

What if Dorothy’s twister was a wormhole, and the Land of Oz was another planet? What would ‘Planet Oz’ be like today? And why on earth is it running out of oxygen?

These are some of the what-if questions I worked with when I wrote The Wizard of O2, a re-imagining of the classic tale that brings kids and grown-ups back to the Land of Oz for a 21st-century adventure in science and magic.

As with any retelling, I needed a reason to revisit the Land of Oz (other than my own fandom since discovering Judy Garland’s 1939 movie as a kid): Why tell the tale again, and why do it now? L. Frank Baum’s original novel was published back in 1900 and, more than a century later, the book has entered the public domain. The world has also changed a great deal. I realized the time was right to not only revisit the material but to do it through an environmental lens that would make the story even more pertinent in our current, climate-changed times.

Because I come from a screenwriting background, the project began as a screenplay for an animated short film, which I wrote ‘on spec’ to later pitch to film studios and production companies. I envisioned a charming animation with cute and colorful artwork worthy of a Pixar movie, and the climate narrative behind it would function by, first, connecting with audiences through an affectionate parody of Baum’s much-loved work. If the aim of the project is to get mainstream audiences thinking about something as depressing and anxiety-inducing as global warming, I wanted to make it easy for them to go there. I wanted to engage them on the issue by making it familiar, entertaining and, yes, ‘fun’.

On discovering the prohibitive cost of making an animation and the scarcity of producers willing to back an animated short, I opted to adapt my Oz satire into a comic book first. A comic was something I could manage myself while remaining in the pop-cultural category of mediums, which also includes television shows and video games. This was a parameter I had set for the project because, given the climate cause, I wanted the story to have ‘reach’. The visual medium of comics would also convey a brand of charm and whimsy that I thought was crucial to this project.

As many have said, climate stories don’t all need to be apocalyptic dystopias filled with doom and gloom. There’s a place for dark and gritty perspectives and, indeed, there are many climate storytellers producing valuable work in this space. But there’s also a place for whimsy, humor and hope, even in the face of climate catastrophe. Taking the lighter approach can actually help mainstream audiences, which includes both children and adults, to connect with an otherwise depressing subject. So, with the Oz story as my vehicle, I embraced comedy and eccentricity as a route into the hearts and minds of my readers.

My hope for The Wizard of O2 is that it reaches many people as a form of popular entertainment and, thereby, brings the climate cause to a new and wider audience. The comic is now published under my imprint, Truth/Dare Media: We’re a publishing startup that focuses on telling important stories through comics, audiobooks and other popular mediums. And our mission is simple: To help save the world through pop culture. If you enjoy our book and agree that it contributes toward this cause, please help us spread the word!


The Wizard of O2 is a single-issue comic book of 32 color pages. It is written and lettered by Quentin D. Young, an emerging comic creator and a represented script writer whose screenplays have been accepted for submission by leading Hollywood companies including Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Studios (formerly Fox), and Participant Media. The artwork is by Jean Lins, a comic book artist whose previous works include Dandara and Tales of Griot: The Mirror of Truth.

The Wizard of O2 is published as an indie comic by Truth/Dare Media (January 2021). It is currently available as a digital comic and can be purchased directly from the publisher, or through major online bookstores including Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Google Play. It has also been released on Comixology, an Amazon platform dedicated to digital comics and the world’s largest comic readership. The price is $2.99 or £2.49, though this may vary slightly between outlets.