'Their eyes opened up': Tuktoyaktuk teens screen climate change doc at UN conference

A group of teenagers from the Arctic coastal hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk recently returned from COP25 in Spain, where they screened their documentary called Happening to Us, which shows the impacts climate change is having on their home community.

'I'm not afraid to say what I want to say anymore,' says teen following screening in Madrid

Members of Tuk TV pose at the COP25 conference in Madrid, Spain. The group screened their documentary, Happening to Us, which shows the impacts climate change is having in their home community. (Submitted by Tuk TV)

It was only a few months ago that a group of teens from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., formed a collective — Tuk TV — and began filming a documentary: Happening to Us.

But what a few months it has been.

The teens recently returned from Cop25 — a United Nations climate change conference held in Madrid — having screened their documentary to attendees from around the world.

The film shows the impact climate change is having on the teens' hometown, where issues like coastal erosion are so dramatic the hamlet is preparing for relocation.

"They really showed concern," said Tuk TV's Carmen Kuptana. "Their eyes opened up when they saw what was happening to our land, and how young kids were really concerned about what was happening."

Four teen filmmakers from Tuktoyaktuk attended the conference. Next to 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, they were the youngest delegates in attendance — something Kuptana thought was "really cool."

Kuptana said she really liked showing their culture, and what is at stake for them with climate change.

"The elders noticed changes ... but they didn't know it was climate change," she said. "It's about our future as well."

The experience was also empowering for Kuptana, who said it helped her "grow as a person and a leader."

"I'm not afraid to say what I want to say anymore."

While at the conference, the teens continued to collect interviews for their documentary, which they hope to expand into a full-length film. (Submitted by Tuk TV)

Longer doc in the works

The Tuk TV collective is the brainchild of Maeva Gauthier, a University of Victoria student pursuing her PhD on engaging Arctic youth on global change.

She applied for a grant that covered the cost of filming equipment and allowed her to hire producer Jaro Malanowski to lead a film workshop and guide the students through making a documentary.

About 10 teens are part of the group, along with a Tuk TV junior group made up of younger students.

Malanowski attended COP25 with the students, and said it was amazing to see the impact they had.

"I think at the end of the day, story is most important," he said. "We want to make sure that the youth's stories, and their voices, are represented."

The 22-minute film proved to be a hit. The group was originally asked to screen the film twice, but it ended up being shown a total of seven times.

Producer Jaro Malanowski, left, has been working with the teens on the film project. Here, he's pictured with 19-year-old Nathan Kuptana, who says Tuk TV has inspired him to pursue a career in the film industry. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

But the film isn't a finished project just yet. With COP25 behind them, Tuk TV is planning on expanding the documentary into a full-length picture.

Malanowski said the second half of the film will focus on solutions. 

"What can be done at a community level and Arctic level, but also to explore what is happening to other countries and other places."

The teens are also hoping to travel to another Indigenous community to show the impacts climate change is having there.

Malanowski said the group made connections with people from around the world at the conference and interviewed several of them for the documentary, including Catherine Stewart, Canada's chief negotiator for climate change.

The experience was transformative for 19-year-old Nathan Kuptana, the oldest member of the group, who's hoping to produce a documentary on microplastics.

"I'd like to do more of this kind of stuff," he said. " Filming, screening and teaching younger kids, seeing if they have an interest in the film industry like I did."

More than anything, Kuptana is hoping Happening to Us makes an impact.

"Hopefully the leaders can take action now on climate change. That's my hope, [that] that will happen really quickly and not later, because if we don't act now, it will be too late."