Imagine your life is turned upside down – your very own ‘Walter Mitty’ experience. You go from the daily grind of 9-5 work to a gig you’re truly passionate about, and one which has the potential to change the world in a positive way.
That’s exactly what happened to Liz Courtney, a former high-flying business executive, who traded in her corporate life to direct documentary films. Liz’s latest project, The Tipping Points, is a six part TV series being aired in more than 40 countries (Channels include – Discovery Europe, VPRO, ARD Group, Knowledge Network, TV Ontario, SBS/NITV, The Australian Network, NBC Universal/The Weather Channel, URT, CEMA Russia, and more). Liz and her crew venture to some of the most fragile regions in the world – all ecological tipping points, where the slightest environmental change could impact the entire globe and life as we know it. Here’s a sneak peak into Liz’s truly incredible life and her latest filmmaking adventure, aimed at saving our planet. Prepare to be inspired…
From city slicker to environmental filmmaker… what was your Tipping Point?
“My background is in brand and marketing strategy – I ran leading media agencies Ogilvy and Mather PR, and then was a partner at various other agencies. I was very ambitious and work focused until I had my first son, 14 years ago. It was then that I decided to try my hand at filmmaking, which had always been a secret passion. Ten years and 40 documentaries later, I am still doing what I am truly passionate about.”
Liz in her previous ‘corporate’ life Liz now, exploring the Tipping Points.
The Tipping Points: what’s it about?
The Tipping Points is a landmark TV series, which I directed. It explores the emerging tipping points of climate change that have recently drawn concern from scientific communities worldwide for their fragile and near-crisis state. The docu-series follows a group of pre-eminent scientists as they venture off the grid to explore the perilous tipping points making our weather systems more extreme and unpredictable.
The series explores the global impact of climate change, how climate and human populations interconnect and the profound impact they have on each other. Scientists explore the elements destabilizing our climate system and how changes in a remote area can – and do – dramatically impact those on other continents, thousands of miles away. The phenomena of “tipping points” follows the concept that, at a particular moment in time, a small change can have a large, long-term consequence on a fragile climate system already in a state of flux. Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Further, when the situation is pushed past the “tipping point,” it will potentially lead to a chain reaction, putting other ecosystems around the globe in peril.
“Tipping Points” feature several of the most critical examples, including the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, total melting of the Himalayan icecap glaciers, dieback of the Amazon rainforest, shutdown of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation, and the rapid melt of the Permafrost in Siberia.
Take a sneak peek from the series.
How did you get involved in The Tipping Points series?
In 2010, I was offered the opportunity to direct a youth film in Antarctica. I shared the adventure and experience with 40 young amazing teenagers, all ‘climate ambassadors’ who had been chosen from across the world based on environmental projects and initiatives they had worked on. It was confronting to see how fast the planet was changing. We witnessed penguins panting because the weather was too hot for them; baby penguins abandoned because they were born too late, and with a heavy down coat still intact, their parents had left them behind to undertake the long journey to the Falkland Islands solo. We watched massive tabular icebergs melting rapidly… there was extreme change right before our eyes and we were all witnessing it.
The young teenagers asked me why the adults of the world were not doing anything to reduce our carbon footprint and protect the planet for their, and future generations. It’s hard to come back from Antarctica not affected. This is where my passion was seeded, and what led me to create the global series on climate change, The Tipping Points.
See the devastating impact of climate change…
Most memorable experiences while filming The Tipping Points?
It’s been a crazy ride, but I am proud to say I have survived and notched up a few of my own firsts along the way – camping at minus 15 degrees on the Greenland Icesheet, Dog-sledding to the edge of the sea-ice in the High Arctic, living on the ice for several days (no loos are a real challenge!), living in the Amazon Rainforest surrounded by howling monkeys and no door on my room, climbing underground into a Permafrost Tunnel in Alaska (not for anyone claustrophobic!), and white water rafting on the Ganges in the high foothills of northern India. It’s been an amazing adventure and I am excited to share some of my stories and video clips with you.
Episode 1: The Greenland Ice-sheet. Tell us what happened…
The first episode I directed was to the Greenland Ice-sheet flying via Denmark. We spent the day on the ground checking our gear and thermal covers for the cameras, before travelling from Greenland’s far south to the far north to Qaanaaq, a remote Inuit community of only 450 people. We went there to explore the rate of melt of the Greenland Ice-sheet and its effects on global ocean circulation. My crew were from Australia and our presenter for the series, the amazing Dutch Canadian woman Bernice Notenboom who has climbed Mt Everest and skied across the North and South Poles.
It was a trip of many firsts for me including my first time camping. I had my own tent, thermal mattress a balmy minus 15 degrees! There was no mobile phone coverage, no sewerage and on the ice-sheets no toilet, only flat ice. We lived and filmed with the Inuit community in Qaanaaq for seven days before heading out the ice-sheets for three. One car in the community meant it was really challenging to move the crew around. We made arrangements with the community elders to go out to the edge of the sea ice with their dog sled teams, and we packed food for ourselves and the dogs and excitedly set off for a three day adventure. We hit an open ridge of sea ice, and the dogs were extremely nervous. I was actually petrified as we raced towards the opening and jumped over it, only to discover the sea ice was starting to move beneath us, and that meant enormous danger. The Inuit hunters stopped and after much discussion it was decided that we should turn around and find another route to the edge of the sea-ice. Trying to coordinate filming, positioning the dog sled teams and navigating exactly where you wanted them to go was impossible. As a director, I just had to laugh and say, this is as it is!
Camping on ice
For our first night of three camping on the ice, Bernice and I decided on a tent and figured the other three tents could be used by the crew and the hunters. But when we entered out tent, we discovered two of the hunters had already settled in. We didn’t want to offend anyone, so we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept top-to-tail beside them, in an effort to avoid waking with a bristly hunter in our faces the following morning. The next day we realised they’d purposefully slept in our tent to protect us from polar bears and melting sea ice during the night.
We flew into the S10 Camp on the Greenland Ice sheet by charter plane, flown by two young pilots from Iceland, who did a fine job dropping us in the middle of nowhere. From here, we travelled to the Swiss Camp, where we dropped off some building supplies – their camp has moved nearly 30kms over the last 15 years due to shifting ice. We were driven out to the edge of the ice-cap along the bumpiest road ever, then we hauled our gear over the hills and up onto the ice sheet for a few nights. This time we had a toilet of types – a blue barrel with a real toilet seat on it, which was strange to see perched on the horizon and being investigated by curious arctic foxes!
Filming with Prof Tim Lenton, Jason Box, Alun Hubbard and Steffen Konrad was such a privilege – we really had an amazing adventure and captured the science behind why the Greenland Ice sheet plays such an important role in the climate system. We saw black soot from industrial nations scattered across the glaciers, and how fast the ice sheet is moving and melting, and discussed the effects this continued rate of melt of the Greenland Ice sheet could have on the planet’s climate system and ocean currents. We witnessed firsthand the accelerated changes that are happening on the ice sheet, the glaciers that curtain the ocean and the sea-ice, which is retracting at rates outside the conservative models from the last Climate Change Summit.
What can we do to help save the planet and prevent further climate change?
If we could work to reduce our personal carbon footprint by just 5% then collectively we could make a huge difference and start to turn the tide around. It takes a combination of a collective way of thinking and living that can become a new carbon footprint for all of us to aspire to, achieve and then live. Changing a carbon footprint could include:
Take a leadership role in your family, with friends open the dialogue and explore new ideas and ways you can reduce your footprint by 5% and make a pledge to try for the next three months to make a difference. Put out the pledge on Facebook and see how many of your friends will join you on this quest.
Tell us how you have tried to reduce your carbon footprint. It could be as simple as turning lights off at night, or limiting your tumble dryer use. Every little bit helps, so let’s start the discussion here and make a difference together.
For more information visit:
The Tipping Points or read about Liz’s behind-the-scenes journey with the film crew on the links below:
Compiled by Franki Hobson