A film by Gina Abatemarco
2016, 64 minutes
No. 064


Set 80 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina is an intimate portrait of the Inupiaq Eskimo community of Kivalina, Alaska whose island is going under water due to climate change. Caught in the middle of the Arctic's grave environmental and cultural tipping point, the documentary beautifully captures the plight of a small indigenous community to survive in a landscape and an American system that is failing them.

Kivalina explores the temporality of the island through a deep look at it's ancient subsistence hunting traditions. Stunningly shot, the film takes the viewer into icy waters for seal hunting, deep into the Arctic tundra for foraging, and along the coast for seasonal fishing activities.

Having lived in the Arctic for centuries, the people of Kivalina have a deep connection to their land and the ocean that surrounds them. No matter how connected the community is to their land however, they can no longer survive on the island of Kivalina itself. Built on merely a sliver of sand and permafrost Kivalina is eroding into the waters that surround it and with a decrease in seasonal sea ice they are exposed to worsening storms. Experts and scientists agree Kivalina is in “imminent danger of a flood” and they predict that in ten years the entire island will be under water.

So why are 400 American citizens living on an island that is disappearing into the Arctic? The island of Kivalina's history dates back a century ago when the community's ancestors were forced to give up their nomadic way of life by the Bureau of Indian Affairs so their children could enroll in school. The island of Kivalina itself was traditionally a seasonal hunting camp and had never been considered by the Inupiaq people as a suitable permanent residence.

The modern day community of Kivalina have been trying to relocate for generations, but the Alaskan and Federal governments have failed to come forward. Instead, we see in the film the Army Corps of Engineer's controversial decision to build a multi-million dollar rock sea wall along the island's failing coastline that could cement the community in place for a decade.

Forced to go on with their daily lives as the sea wall construction goes on day and night, intimate testimonials reveal the community's deep fear and anxiety about their future. With no running water, no room to build, and no evacuation plan, it's frightening to imagine what another decade could look like on Kivalina.

Shot over five years and with unprecedented access, Gina Abatemarco's documentary is both a cinematic elegy to the indigenous cultures of the Arctic and a harrowing portrait of the climate change in America.

* Official Selection, Berlin Film Festival

"A beautiful, intimate portrait of a struggling community." - NPR