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This Sussex Life. MA student Syed Jazib Ali: "These stories are heartfelt and repeated on a global scale."
By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Wednesday, 10 November 2021
I got this great opportunity to be involved in making this film hearing about it from a couple of friends studying for Masters in Sustainable Development at Sussex. A team from Cambridge Zero at Cambridge University, and from Bath University’s Institute of for policy Research, and the COP26 Universites Network were looking for co-producers and co-directors to help make a documentary about young people’s reactions to climate change. I’d been making documentaries in Kashmir about cross-border violence between India and Pakistan, and had only just become more aware of climate issues. They didn't have a trailer at that time to ask for submissions, so I made a two-minute trailer with a couple of my university student friends, and it was very well received.
As a co-director, I was involved in editing submissions for the main film and making the final trailer. We knew it was going to be premiered at COP26. We’d shown the trailer at New York Climate Week and they loved it. Our youth climate film is a part of the official Green Zone events line-up. I’m really excited to be in Glasgow for this and to be on the panel to discuss the film after its premiere.
The film features video clips from volunteers and students around the world. We chose the personal and germane stories, with people describing their experiences. They were heartfelt. I remember a guy from China showing a river, saying when he was growing up the river was this high, but now it’s almost gone. As a team, we never realized that these stories were being repeated on a global scale. There were many similarities, but on such personal levels. These guys are aged from 18 to 30 years old and in their life time they’ve already seen drastic changes.
It made me reflect on my home in Kashmir and how a river there has almost dried up. My uncle and my father said how they used to dive in and swim in it, but it's impossible now because it's so low. If I talk about these things in my community, people say they have other things to be bothered about. They are going to the cities. They don't care about the villages because they think the cities offer the better life. Some are ignorant and say this is not climate change, this is just the cycle of nature. But the reality is that we did it, we’re responsible. It’s upsetting when you see beautiful resources disappearing in your lifespan. And this is a personal experience. This isn’t seeing it on a screen or having someone telling you a story. You’re experiencing it, so it hits you on a different level.
I’m also volunteering with the COP26 coalition, helping them in collective coverage of the COP26 events, and I’m part of the 'Minga Indegina' audio-visual team, representing indigenous people at the COP26 summit. COP26 has created a platform for climate enthusiasts to come together, network and learn from each other. Such events and experiences are helping me grow and nourish my personal and professional life.
When I came to Sussex in 2019, I had no idea that climate change was such a big thing. I remember during freshers’ week I was handed a pamphlet from Extinction Rebellion and I was intrigued to hear about school pupils' strikes.I met a lot of very progressive people at Sussex and I started learning. I did my first short narrated documentary on climate change just two months after I started because I was so intrigued. I went to Brighton Youth Centre and I began questioning young people about their biggest climate fear.
Because Kashmir is a conflict zone, climate change was not our top priority. There are so many other issues that get your attention first. My focus as a journalist and documentary filmmaker was on humanitarian issues and social causes, not the environment. Now I see things from a different angle. The mining that has been done in Kashmir, the environmental resources being plundered...I can connect the human rights and humanitarian issues with climate change from what I have learned since coming to Sussex.
When I started my MA, I used to go to every event possible on campus. I’ve always believed informal learning is as important as formal learning, so I went to all the screenings, debates, open seminars. Sussex is the best place for that because so much is going on. Before the pandemic I did my best to be everywhere. I was part of Decolonizing Sussex for a brief time. And then I started reading about David Attenborough and his contributions. A whole new world was opening up to me.
When I was growing up, stories were one of my passions. I've always wanted to be a storyteller but I had no idea how to do it. I started writing in the beginning, but then I got more interested in visual storytelling.
One of my films was selected for the Jaipur International Film Festival. I was talking to one of the judges afterwards about wanting to do a Masters, and he told me that he had heard a lot of good things about Sussex. It has a good reputation and is really progressive. So I did my research and saw a course that I really wanted to do. Also, I had never been to UK before, never been to London or Brighton. I could see that there was the sea and a National Park as well. I love nature – the South Downs remind me of Kashmir, except the mountains are higher there. It felt like the place I should be.
I’ve had the best time. I love my university and the people, and I love Brighton. I’m always selling the city and the University. I see my future in the UK. The opportunities I have and the networking I am able to do here I couldn’t have achieved in a lifetime back home. During lockdown I volunteered for lots of organisations, including the United Nations, because I knew that even if I’m sitting at home I could still invest in new skills and be networking global. I reached for every opportunity.
But I don't want to forget my home. I feel I have a responsibility to take my learning and give it back to my home. I think that is one responsibility everyone has to their homeland.
This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.