That Which Once Was

In 2032, two environmental refugees discover friendship in a world devastated by climate change.
Film Length(s)
20 mins
Remote video URL


In 2032 an eight-year-old Caribbean boy, displaced by global warming, fends for himself as an environmental refugee in a hostile northern metropolis. Haunted by memories of flooding that left him homeless and orphaned the boy forms an unexpected friendship with an Inuk ice carver who helps him confront his past.

Featured review

Beautifully shot and well-acted.
-Shadow and Act


In the year 2032, Vicente, an eight-year-old Caribbean boy, has been displaced by global warming and fends for himself as an environmental refugee in a hostile northern metropolis. Orphaned and without connection to family or friends, Vicente now lives in a children’s shelter on the fringes of the city and struggles with anxiety, rage, and disturbing memories of the tragedy he fled.

On a hot summer day, Vicente sits outside the shelter and sees a mysterious man smashing large chunks of ice against the pavement. Thus, begins an unexpected friendship between Vicente and Siku, an Inuk ice carver from the Artic Circle: two people from different worlds who have both experienced tremendous loss. Through their bond, Siku ultimately helps Vicente confront his past and understand the value of memory.

By the middle of the 21st century it is estimated that as many as 1 billion people will become environmental refugees as a direct result of climate change and global warming. Dramatic increases in natural disasters - flooding, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes and drought - will precipitate forced migration on an epic scale. That Which Once Was explores the social and political implications of future migration patterns triggered by climatic disaster. That Which Once Was is an emotional and visually striking short film that focuses on those who have been impacted by displacement, loss, and trauma---and struggle to find ways to heal and, ultimately, cope with a world changed by global warming.

Awards and Screenings

Commissioned by: Independent Television Service (ITVS), Futurestates
WINNER: Best Short Film, Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival
WINNER: Futurestates Audience Award- Independent Television Service
SXSW Film Festival, Austin, TX
Toronto International Film Festival-TIFF Kids, Canada
Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada
Hamptons International Film Festival, NY
Environmental International Film Festival, Paris, France
Copenhagen International Children’s Film Festival, Denmark
Green International Film Festival, Seoul, Korea
San Francisco Asian International Film Festival, CA
Cinema Planeta Festival Internacional De Cine, Mexico
XX1 International Short Film Festival, Jakarta, Indonesia
Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, Canada
Hawai’i International Film Festival, Honolulu
Bermuda International Film Festival, Hamilton, Bermuda
Cleveland International Film Festival, Ohio
Anchorage International Film Festival, Alaska
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, CA
San Diego Asian Film Festival, CA
Tales From Planet Earth Film Festival, Madison, WI
Regent Park Film Festival, Toronto, Canada
Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, IL
Redcat Internat'l Children’s Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA
Children’s Film Festival Seattle, Washington
Reel Kids Film Festival, Toronto, Canada
Women and Film Voices Film Festival, Denver, CO
Asia Society Texas, Houston
Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawai’i
New Art Exchange Gallery, Nottingham, UK
Big Screen Project, NY, NY

Director Commentary

I often take a collage approach in making my films. In That Which Once Was, I drew from a number of disparate sources and assembled the ideas together. I had been impacted by the severity and frequency of environmental disasters that were striking all parts of the world, including the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Every day it seemed there was news of a flood, earthquake, fire or mudslide that was destroying the lives of a community. I was thinking a great deal about loss and displacement, in regards to family and homeland, and how disasters specifically affect young children. How does a child cope with such trauma? How does a child move on emotionally?

I was also inspired by a trip to Uganda where I made a documentary, Where Are You Taking Me? ( that featured Hope North, a school and refuge for youth impacted by the civil war in Northern Uganda. Many of the children were orphans and former child soldiers who had been deeply scarred by war and conflict. Hope North was founded by a remarkable artist and activist, Sam Okello. ( Part of the ongoing mission of the school is to integrate art, dance, and music into the curriculum as a form of therapy. This idea of using art and creativity as a way to aid in the process of emotional healing, was very influential in the making of That Which Once Was.

There were numerous powerful images that resonated with me while visiting Hope North. Many of the children had only a few personal photos and remnants from their pasts packed in small suitcases or trunks. There was a real sense of poignancy in this, as each object carried great emotional weight, representing an important connection to family and community. The talented production designer (Matt Herschel) and I incorporated these images into the visualization of the children’s shelter, and more specifically, I explored this idea in Vicente’s intense physical and emotional attachment to the fishing lure given to him by his father.

Another central source of inspiration for the film was the ice. I was developing a feature length project that explored the life of an ice carver and spent several years researching various aspects of the ice sculpture process. I’m fascinated by the visual and metaphoric possibilities that ice offers. Ice speaks to all that is fleeting and ephemeral in life. Part of the beauty of ice sculpture for the maker and the viewer is the remembrance of that which has been, and that which is lost.

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