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Associated Alumni

Craig Norris’ climate change documentary receives international accolades

When Craig Norris (BBA'02) graduated from Saint John High School in 1998, he enrolled in business on the UNB Saint John campus. The filmmaker, whose award-winning documentary Kokota: The Islet of Hope was shown at National Geographic Society’s headquarters this month, always had an ulterior motive behind his major.

“I come from a relatively conservative family,” says Norris. “I really wanted to go to film school, but at the time, if I’d told my dad I wanted to be a filmmaker it would have been like telling him I wanted to be an astronaut.”

A few years after graduation, Norris and his fiancée (now wife) moved into their car and went on a road trip. Leaving from Moncton, NB, they travelled across Canada, then through the United States, then to Costa Rica, before returning to Moncton. Norris used that time as a crash course in filmmaking and photography, intensively studying the craft. He credits his business education with giving him the tools to make sure he could create profitably.

“If a young filmmaker or someone who was aspiring to be a filmmaker came and asked me what they should do for an education, I would say to start with a business degree,” says Norris. “Because the business side of being a filmmaker is the most challenging part. There are a lot of people making films who want to be filmmakers, but can’t figure out how to get paid.”

Through his company VideoBand Productions, Norris has created Amazing Places, a series of short nature documentaries for the Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and is currently working on a project with the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund.

His acclaimed film, Kokota: The Islet of Hope tells the story of Mbarouk Mussa Omar’s quest to help neighbouring East African island Kokota, whose residents are on the front line in the race to adapt to Earth’s changing climate.

The 30-minute film follows Kokota residents as they identify and tackle the most pressing issues facing their community. They build a solar grid, rainwater harvesting systems, and begin a replanting program to try to reverse the deforestation of their island.

In an interview with CBC, Norris says about Kokota, "When you're done watching it you say, 'Wow, these people in Africa that started with nothing and were really behind the eight-ball, they managed to really change their lives and adapt to climate change'.”  

For Norris, he says that the island’s size makes it a model for how the rest of the world might cope with the effects of climate change.

“If those guys who had nothing could respond and adapt to climate change in as little as a year or two, what could the developed world do?,” says Norris. “I think the old idea is that adapting to climate change means we have to make sacrifices. But when you look at Kokota, you can see that they didn’t really make sacrifices, they adapted to climate change and they improved their situation. They made themselves more comfortable and more resilient at the same time.”

Commissioned by the European Union (EU), Kokota has received accolades, including best cinematography at the Atlantic Film Festival and best canadian short from Planet Focus, Canada’s largest environmental film festival. Internationally, Norris’s film received the 2017 Eric Moe Award for best short on sustainability at the Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF), the world’s premier showcase of environmentally themed films, hosted in Washington, DC; and was screened by National Geographic. Kokota has also be shown at other film festivals in Canada and the United States, as well as in Australia, Asia and Africa.   

“I hadn’t submitted my work to international film festivals before, and submitted three projects last fall. And then the phone just started ringing and the emails started coming in,” says Norris. "Kokota's done really well. It’s gotten into 11 festivals and counting and it’s won three awards. The connection to National Geographic is also a big deal to me. I made a living with photojournalism style photography for years and working for National Geographic had always publicly been on my dream list. My photos didn’t get published in National Geographic magazine, but to do anything associated with that organization to me is literally a dream come true.”

So what’s next for Norris?

“I have a few projects on the go”, he says.

One of those is another short film commissioned by the EU about climate change in Malawi. 

Back to Alumni News Direct - March 2017