I’m not a big fan of Days and Weeks, by which I mean those days and weeks that commemorate the fabulous spirit and contribution of people that you can then forget about for the rest of the year. There are hundreds of them, from big media-led extravaganzas like Mother’s Day, which repays women’s bonded labour with the emotional purchase of a card each May, to more niche occasions, such as Telecommuter Awareness Week, which passes more or less unsung each February. If I cared, I would be outraged by the fact that Freelance Writers Appreciation Week, also in February, gets even less attention.
But I don’t, so I was surprised last week to discover a Day that did not leave me entirely cold. It fell on May 10, 2008 and was the world’s first-ever Pangea Day. Pangea is the name of the great big undifferentiated landmass that scientists say existed on planet Earth before tectonic forces split it up into continents and bits and pieces and sent them floating across the oceans until they ended up in the positions we know as the world map.
Scientists love to say dubious things like ‘This wee tiny bit of white crap is a shard of the earbone of a peaceable herbivorous creature that lived four hundred million years, four months and two days ago, stood sixty-one feet tall, had three heads, and ate nothing but baby corn,’ when they weren’t even there; but the continents of the world all fit together so nicely that I have to admit that they’re probably right about Pangea.
Pangea Day is the brainchild of documentary filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, who in 2006 won the yearly $100,000 TED Prize in Monterey, California. (For those of you who haven’t heard of TED or read about it here, look it up at www.ted.com, unless you love missing out.) TED prize winners are granted a wish, and can use the money to translate the wish into reality. Noujaim’s wish was “World peace”, which, as she pointed out, sounds like a beauty pageant sound byte, but is really, actually, genuinely what she most wishes for, and hang the cynicism. And that’s the thing about Pangea Day that gets me; it’s not sentimental claptrap. It feels rather more matter-of-fact, along the lines of: “If we don’t do this peace thing very soon, we’re going to self-destruct faster than you can say ‘carbon emission’ or ‘bomb blast’”.
Noujaim was looking for a way to bring people together across borders and cultures and genders, convinced that being able to see the world through somebody else’s eyes is the most effective way to engender social change; and as photographer and film-maker she believes in the power of the image to deliver differing realities to people.
Enter Pangea Day, on which twenty-four short films by independent filmmakers, selected out of over 2,500 submissions from over a hundred countries, were screened simultaneously at six locations worldwide, and broadcast in seven languages over television, the internet and mobile phones. Have a look at the films for some really smart, funny, provocative, surprising, touching life stories in countries other than yours. ‘The Ball’, for instance, from Mozambique, or ‘The Man Without a Head’ and ‘I’ll Wait For the Next One’ from France, ‘Dancing Queen’ from India, or Noujaim’s own ‘Mutual Recognition’ from Egypt/the US.
You can see how an experiment like this might, actually, open minds and create some space in which to encounter difference in a friendly fashion—quite apart from making some good short films available for free. I hope Pangea Day catches on as a yearly tribute to the whole world; it’s possibly the only form of global warming we can afford.