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2018 Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom winner

The Last Generation

About the Project

What is it like to grow up in a place that’s going away?

This question lies at the heart of The Last Generation, a cinematic interactive story that brings audiences into the lives of three children who face losing not just their homes, but their entire nation, to rising seas.

The Marshall Islands, a smattering of 1,000 low-lying coral uplifts halfway between Hawaii and Australia, are home to more than 50,000 people. Nearly half are under the age of 18. Scientists predict that if global temperature rise is not contained, the islands could become uninhabitable within the lifetimes of the children living there today. Through intimate moments, the film’s young protagonists – 9-year-old Izerman, 14-year-old Julia and 12-year-old Wilmer – provide unique insight into what’s at stake.

There have been countless reports from across the globe about places that may be erased from the map by climate change. Such stories face a daunting hurdle: how to talk about a problem both so overwhelming and abstract that many readers turn away. To tell a story that was compelling and immediate, FRONTLINE and The GroundTruth Project elected to focus on young characters who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and to tell their story in a dynamic medium.

Filmmaker Michelle Mizner and reporter Katie Worth spent a month in Majuro meeting families, visiting schools, and exploring the sites impacted by consistent flooding. While filming, they were struck by the eloquence with which children spoke about climate change and the uncertainty of their nation’s future. As Izerman, Julia and Wilmer poignantly demonstrate, growing numbers of both floods and droughts threaten their homes, their islands, and their sense of identity as Marshall Islanders.

In a compelling turn, the story explores not just what the future may hold for this generation, but how the nation’s history of displacement has already shaped them. Nuclear testing conducted 75 years ago in the Marshall Islands left an indelible imprint on those who lived there. It’s a legacy that has been passed on to their descendants. Using rare archival footage and thoughtful storytelling, the film examines the story of those who fled – a history that threatens to repeat itself.

Through a tapestry of video, text, illustration, data visualization and sound, The Last Generation allows the user to actively engage with this rich history and the reality of what may lie ahead. By embracing a multimedia approach, this project lets the user choose their own pace for moving through the experience, and engage with materials at a depth that feels meaningful to them.