The Wave, EmCliC’s ethnographic film

April 26, 2023

During the summers of 2021 and 2022, we conducted ethnographic research with older adults living in Madrid as part of EmCliC. Using a collaborative and multimodal ethnography approach we understood participants have different experiences and understanding of heat, that they cope with heat thanks to socio-cultural heat adaptation practices, and that they are critical of the heatwave alert health protocols, as well as the urban adaptations to heat. The participants’ narratives and their embodied experience of the heatwave have been captured in the ethnofiction film ‘The Wave’. Our ethnographic researcher and visual anthropologist in Madrid, Dr. Paloma Yáñez Serrano used the participants’ descriptions of heatwave experiences gathered during the summer of 2021 to develop a film script that would represent how a day in the heatwave is lived from their different perspectives. Paloma worked with each participant to make each scene realistic from their perspective, paying attention to the sensorially of each moment in which the body is affected by heat. She also worked with participants to design sentences, which participants normally used during heat, exposing their opinions about how heat is conceived in the city.

The film was proposed as an ethnofiction, because while it was based on participants’ experiences, we worked to re-enact those experiences, picking on specific moments and topics that were significant for how we approach heatwaves and social adaptation to climate change. It draws from Jean Rouch approach to ethnofiction school within visual anthropology but also to the sensory turn, highlighting the corporeal experience of participants and how it transforms with heat. The film was also a form of co-production, where participants and the researcher worked together to conceptualize the visual piece and to design the atmosphere of each scene. This was meaningful for the research because it emphasized some aspects while redefining others, allowing the researchers to identify inconsistencies and variations. It was also important because it brought participants and the researcher together on a common mission to send a message to society based on their lived experience, not only proposing a form of participatory science but also a mean to have a say in the heatwave debate.

The Wave tells the story of how nine adults over 65 years old, living in the neighborhoods affected by the urban heat island effect, experienced the hottest summer day. It shows how they live with, battle against, and surrender to the heat, as they go about their day, finding alternatives to the heat. The narrative is built in collaboration with participants, who were the motor of this summer ethnofiction. It reveals the strategies inherited from our grandparents and a blatant criticism of how heat is approached in urban design. It is both an homage to our traditional heat coping strategies and an open question to the heated urban environments that will shape our futures.

The documentary was directed, filmed and edited by Paloma Yáñez and filmmaker Benjamin LLorens Rocamora. It has received the Winter 2023 Exceptional Merit Award in the sub-category of research of Docs Without Borders Film Festival and it has been accepted in the Agora Doc Market of Thessaloniki International Film Festival. We will screen the film at the Energy Ethics research conference and for the wider public on the 7th of June at the headquarters of Ecologists in Action, where we will present the research and the film and where we will have the chance of asking the participants questions about their adaptation to heat during the Q&A.