Lowland Kids

Year of release: 2019            Directed by Sandra Winther.

Lowland Kids

Photo by cinematographer, Todd Martin

The subtitle of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ is “On care for our common home.” That entire phrase, but especially the last three words, are put into relief by Lowland Kids, a documentary short about the effects of climate change on Isle de Jean Charles, off the coast of Louisiana, and the inhabitants thereof.

In twenty minutes, director Sandra Winther introduces us to teenage siblings Juliette and Howard, shows us the beauty of the home they have known for most of their lives, and raises awareness for the necessity of relocation since the island will inevitably be flooded in the coming years due to rising oceans. Winther’s concise approach to the documentary allows her to convey a community that feels familiar by the film’s end, which makes the impending loss of their home more poignant.

Bird’s eye shots of Isle de Jean Charles alternate with boating trips and the teenagers strolling along the water to show the beauty of the island. These are contrasted with the destruction wrought by hurricanes, a reminder that one day the floods from the storms will not recede. Through the interviews, the inhabitants communicate a clear love for their home and express regret that Juliette and Howard will probably be the last kids to grow up there.

We learn that Juliette and Howard lost their parents at a young age, and they have been raised by their uncle with help from the tight-knit community of Isle de Jean Charles, where everyone is either friend or family—both of whom should help one another, and this community does. It is a beautiful example of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the principle of solidarity. That solidarity is what the teenagers know they will have to cling to when they move to a new home.

As discussion of relocating from Isle de Jean Charles emerges toward the end of the film, one man realizes that this will make them refugees, even as he admits it challenges his understanding of the word. At a time when other refugees have been in the news, it is an interesting word choice, but an accurate one that conveys the plight that comes from abandoning one’s home, regardless of the reason.

In Lowland Kids, that reason is climate change. Since the earth is our common home, not only should its care be all of our concern, but aiding anyone who finds themselves displaced should be as well. Lowland Kids does not function as an alarmist call to action, but more powerfully as a brief window of empathy into the life of an overlooked community imminently affected by climate change. Whether we respond as if we are members of that community as well is what the film invites us to consider.

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