In 2013, award-winning filmmaker Biljana Gavranlieva directed After the Rain – the first-ever documentary made by a Macedonian director about climate change.
The film, which was produced with the support of UNDP, the Global Environment Facility, and the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, shows the lives of four women between the ages of forty and eighty, who work as farmers in the country.
Last month, we sat down with Biljana, to discuss the making of the film, its impact, and why women should be at the forefront of efforts to adapt to climate change worldwide.
What determined the selection of the people interviewed in the documentary?
All the people who appear in the movie are from the eastern part of the country. That’s because, above all, the greatest effects of climate change, such as intensive rain and flooding, are currently most visible in the eastern region. I’ve been filming documentaries throughout the country for years now, so I know the terrain very well and I have filmed some of the characters before.
Mutual trust was key in the selection process. The main idea was to show how each of the characters, despite being from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, all share the same sky and face the same challenges of climate change.
Why did you decide to film mainly women’s testimonies?
Because I am very upset by the way in which women are always portrayed in Macedonian movies as eternal victims—as objects somehow inferior to men. Being a woman movie director, it is particularly important to me that women are portrayed in a dignified manner, as fighters, as heroines—the way they are in their real lives.This is a perspective we shared in common with the UNDP office in Skopje – and it was one of the key criteria in the call issued for applications.
While working on the movie, it was clear to me that women have the knowledge and skills to adapt to climate change. They need the power, tools and resources to turn this knowledge into solutions.
While filming the movie, did you come across any ways in which women have taken the initiative to adapt to climate change? If so, which of those did you find most interesting?
For me it was a real revelation that these women had discovered that the older, indigenous types of seeds are more resistant and more resilient to climate change than the new hybrid seeds. Unfortunately, at present they are planting them only for their own personal use, while on the market all you can find are hybrid seeds because they are cheaper and give a better yield. But consumers are also to be blamed for this, since they are favouring cheaper products over better quality and more sustainable products.
I believe that the discovery about the advantages of planting indigenous seeds is very important – and is also a viable strategy for adapting to climate change that should be supported by everybody.
Which climate change challenges faced by the women shocked you the most? What were the greatest challenges?
Modern women in cities rarely think twice about turning on their air-conditioners – unaware that this device contributes to climate change. While women who live in villages, some of whom don’t even own a refrigerator, often have an intuitive ecological conscience, and use shade, water and basements to preserve their food.
I think that the intensive rains, which killed almost everything the women had planted, in a way leads to women’s emancipation. Intuitively, these woman know and decide in the future to plant, for example, more corn instead of other crops, or to use protection nets or drip-irrigation systems, because this helps them have better and more quality products.
What role do the women interviewed play in their communities? Do people from their communities ever consult them if seeking advice on plant growing and land management?
Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that these women have vast experience and are very knowledgeable about agriculture and apply their knowledge in their own fields, their role is not valued and is often underestimated in our communities. But I think that climate change will lead to their emancipation for sure.
How do the women interviewed transmit their knowledge to younger generations?
Unfortunately they do not. The children of all of my characters in the movie have either already emigrated abroad or are planning to leave soon. They do not see their future in this country.
But it is interesting to note that there are more and more young intellectuals who are starting to move from the city to the countryside to work on the land. I also see a future in this.