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Patagonia’s new film is a haunting portrait of America’s climate refugees

The outdoor brand’s latest piece of film activism takes a close, devastating look at an Alaskan village on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

Patagonia’s new film is a haunting portrait of America’s climate refugees

There is a tiny Alaskan village called Newtok, built on a delta at the edge of the Bering Sea. The Yup’ik residents have lived and forged a culture in this area over thousands of years—hunting, fishing, foraging—and right now, the place they call home is sinking.

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To mark Earth Day, Patagonia has launched its latest feature-length doc, Newtok: The Water Is Rising, documenting Newtok’s struggles as the latest American town to become a direct victim of climate change.

The village has been dealing with melting permafrost, river erosion, and decaying infrastructure for decades, and to keep their culture and community intact, the 360 Yup’ik residents must relocate their entire village to stable ground upriver. The film charts this journey through the lives of a few families. One a former Marine who returns to his village after 20 years away to be a town administrator, another a young mother fighting to stay close to her kids and parents, despite dwindling job opportunities.

Around these personal stories is the broader challenges of fighting, working with, and lobbying state and federal government officials for help as some of America’s first climate change refugees.

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Newtok may be one of the first U.S. villages to face destruction because of climate change, but right behind them in line are 37 other Alaskan villages that are going to be destroyed within the next two decades. Globally, an estimated 1.4 billion people will have to move by 2060 due to rising seas.

At one point in the film, a young Yup’ik girl asks, “What will we eat when the land is gone?” This isn’t tree-hugging hippie stuff. Newtok: The Water Is Rising is a haunting, desperate, emotional plea to save a way of life, and also eventually ourselves.

Watch the full film below.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the village was the first in the U.S. to become a direct victim of climate change; however, there have been earlier instances. 

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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