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Kasha Sequoia Slavner was only 15 when she persuaded her mother, Marla, to let her to take a year off high school to shoot a crowdfunded documentary.
The resulting film, The Sunrise Storyteller, was shot in part during a six-month trip the pair took through East Africa and Southeast Asia. It profiles young people working on creative solutions to global problems in their communities.
The independently-produced film has garnered 30 awards and been screened at more than 60 film festivals around the world.
“I really wanted to highlight those stories of resilience and triumph over adversity because they were empowering to me as a … young activist,” said Slavner, now 23.
“I thought more people could hear stories like those.”
1.5 degrees of COP26
Slavner is boarding a plane Wednesday to fly to Glasgow, Scotland to attend the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference on a mission to shoot a second independent documentary — 1.5 Degrees of Peace.
She’ll join thousands of world leaders, politicians, climate activists, businesspeople and more, who are gathering there to hash out plans to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas output and achieve net-zero emissions. The aim is to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 C.
The Conference of Parties (COP), as it’s known, meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.
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The young filmmaker’s second project combines her passions for the environment and peace activism.
“The concept … is looking at the intrinsic links between peace and climate justice and how we can build bridges between these two movements because if we keep acting in silos, we’re not going to be as … productive as we want to with progressive climate action,” she said.
Slavner pointed out that, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross, 14 of the 25 countries considered most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are also experiencing some form of violent conflict.
While on the ground in Glasgow, Slavner said she plans to capture a behind-the-scenes look at young activists crafting demands for world leaders and organizing demonstrations, such as a global protest planned for Saturday. In addition, she hopes to interview people most affected by both climate change and conflict.
“I really want to create a space and a platform for young people who are seeing the effects of the climate crisis and the effects of conflict to share their own stories,” said Slavner.
The making of an activist filmmaker
It was childhood trips to Toronto beaches with her mother where they would toss rocks into Lake Ontario that Slavner said sparked her love of the natural world.
Around the age of 10, watching former U.S. vice-president Al Gore’s climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth made her realize it was all at risk.
“I’ve always felt a really deep connection to the environment,” said Slavner. “And … I’ve always grown up with the knowledge that our climate was sort of in danger.”
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At 14, Slavner followed in her mother’s footsteps and got into activism when she joined the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, a feminist social justice organization.
Since then, she’s travelled to UN headquarters in New York seven times as a youth delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, acted as an adviser to the Canadian Council of Young Feminists and been selected as a global changemaker, according to her online bio.
Slavner credits her mother’s social justice work for inspiring her and the mentorship of documentary filmmaker Liz Marshall for teaching her the ropes of visual storytelling.
Slavner said by showcasing the “resilience” of young people in her new film, she hopes to inspire others to not rely solely on world leaders and governments to take on the world’s most pressing issues, but to make change themselves.
“The narrative around the climate crisis can be pretty doom and gloom,” said Slavner.
“But what gives me hope is the power of young people who are so resilient continuing to show up despite the challenges that we’re constantly met with.”