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He who burns down his father's house inherits the ashes

Nowhere to Run.
Regissør: Jaqueline Farris

Unfortunately, the title Nowhere to Run says most of Nigeria's environmental crisis. The film provides a useful introduction to the overwhelming amount of environmental problems that plague this part of the world.


The major environmental issues that are characteristic of Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, are put into interest in the context of today's social situation in this independent documentary. The reporting style is dynamic and based on conversations with a multitude of experts, activists and witnesses, creating a broad panorama of interwoven themes. On the other hand, there is little room for direct, in-depth observations of reality.

Environment and peace are connected. We are led through a map of special Nigerian regions suffering from various problems. The film starts by reminding us that the environment is, first of all, a "loan from our children" and turns attention to desertification, deforestation, constant flooding, heavy oil spills and other serious environmental problems. We also get to see specifically how specific phenomena cause obvious social difficulties, often far from the immediate surroundings: deforestation and desertification in the north lead to communities being driven away in search of new land, with subsequent violent conflicts and clashes of limited natural resources in the south. The drying of Lake Chad at the northeastern border of Nigeria, which was the world's sixth largest lake in the early 1960s, leads to rapidly increasing poverty for hundreds of thousands of people. The situation also fuels anger and frustration, providing a social basis for Boko Haram's activities. The colossal gas burning and the constant oil spill are destroying the Niger Delta region in southwestern Nigeria, contributing to violent air pollution, acid rainfall and water pollution, which in turn make people sick and vandalize animal and plant life. Natural barriers to the sea are destroyed, the waves tear larger and larger parts of the coastline, and access to land and resources is reduced for local communities. The Cross River region is the area richest in natural resources, but is haunted by large-scale environmental crimes carried out by heavily armed groups, so that the world's third largest rainforest is shrinking rapidly. This leads to increasing land erosion in large parts of the country, and floods that destroy local communities and people's everyday lives.

The clear and ongoing voices trying to create a Nigerian public awareness of environmental issues show the film's relationship with what one might call crusade journalism. This may seem strange to a western audience, which would probably prefer a more open scrutiny of specific facts. Still, the film provides a rare opportunity to see a first-hand Nigerian account of today's most pressing environmental issues, and about the people who play a leading role in the work to solve the problems facing the country. Nowhere to Run shows Nigeria's importance on the African continent and its role in shaping international environmental policy. On the whole, the film is a useful introduction to the overwhelming amount of environmental problems that plague this part of the world.

The situation also fuels anger and frustration, providing a social basis for Boko Haram's activities.

Outrageous pictures. The list of problems stops – thankfully – after the first part. Here, as the film changes direction, it begins to point to possible positive social solutions, while presenting different actions and people who are already working for solutions in different fields. The solutions to some of the most important, namely the country's inefficient electricity system, include traditional and non-traditional energy sources – and the film also looks at everyday utensils for energy use, including stoves. Another important thing is the improvement of food production systems, and here we emphasize the importance of sustainable cultivation methods and initiatives in small communities. It's all summed up in an Igbo slogan: "He who burns down his father's house inherits the ashes."

No escape is possible from the exposed areas, as there are no pristine, problem-free areas left.

The large influx of environmentally conscious documentaries from around the world makes it almost impossible to group them as a separate subgenre now. Nowhere to Run is still stylistically distant from recent popular documentaries made on fat budgets – like Oscar nominees Virunga by Orlando von Einsiedels or Before the Flood by Fisher Stevens. Nowhere to Run runs a style that belongs in television reporting, and makes use of dynamic editing when presenting conditions that are confined to a particular country, but which include innumerable and complex social and environmental issues that are interrelated. The style is precise and disciplined, while at the same time the individual points push the boundaries of the form. Therefore, the film is perceived to be a little too much as a ramp up of problems with little room for the search for less obvious, but perhaps more tailor-made solutions to the serious problems Nigeria has to deal with. The hope of shaping and influencing public opinion through the cross-cutting of a large number of "talking heads" and illustrative images limits the possibility of engaging analysis. Still: We are made aware of the importance of debate and its long-term impact not only on Nigerians, but also on many neighboring countries. The prevalence of the disastrous man-made activities that destroy Nigerian nature is shown in outrageous and detailed pictures. The dimensions of the phenomena presented are outrageous, and require more resolute and rapid responses to conditions already experienced as global.

Protection of human life. All in all is Nowhere to Run a strong testimony to the seriousness of the environmental situation in Africa. The title says it most – no escape is possible from the exposed areas, as there are no pristine, problem-free areas left. The only way to protect human life goes through the protection of nature, which has suffered great losses over the last 30 years. Only humans themselves, and their actions here and now, can create and rebuild a form of life that previous generations could enjoy. If this is not possible, everyone will suffer.

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