Review: How to Kill a Cloud
by Kaleem Aftab
- Tuija Halttunen signs a look at attempts to seed clouds and the ethical question it raises, through the eyes of a Finnish scientist
The title is dramatic, but the information is quickly relayed that the way to kill a cloud is to force it to rain, ensuring that the cloud will vanish and disappear. The science of cloud seeding (to use the official term) is explained in layman's terms in Finish filmmaker Tuija Halttunen's documentary How to Kill a Cloud [+see also:
interview: Tuija Halttunen
film profile], playing in the Nordic:Dox Award competition at CPH:DOX 2021.
Halttunen follows scientist Hannele Korhonen from Finland to the United Arab Emirates after the project she fronts receives a $1.5 million research grant to participate in the Arab state's ambitious attempt to stimulate rainfall. It's a hot, arid country, so it's no surprise that the Arab states would do anything to produce more rain and water.
Korhonen is one of the few women we see in the film. She sticks out also because of her wry sense of humour, with a fellow Finn made uncomfortable when she jokes about ugly ties. The men around her are pretty geeky. Much of her life is taken up by meetings and networking events where everyone is more comfortable chatting about unfathomable science than doing small talk. Korhonen is also most comfortable when conducting science experiments. Before she goes to the U.A.E., she has to stop to think over what she's heard about human rights and the treatment of migrant workers. Still, the opportunity is so great that she overcomes these doubts, and when she arrives in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, she is pleasantly surprised by what she finds. However, her delight at finding women working in elevated positions shows how poor her previous cultural knowledge was. It will not be the last time that Korhonen will have to weigh up scientific value against ethics.
Director Tuija Halttunen (Neighbours, State of Mind) is observational with her camera, starting from the science and the life of a scientist before moving on to ethical questions. She walks us through the principles of killing a cloud, or as it's more commonly called, “seeding” clouds. In 1947, Kurt Vonnegut's brother, Burt, made the bright realisation that you could induce a cloud to start snowing by pouring dry ice onto it from above. It's a good discovery but not enough to bring rain to the desert. Scientists from 9 world-leading groups are brought to the U.A.E. to try to find ways to create clouds that will control the weather. But as time goes on, Hannele is faced with moral questions around treaty signees and how much power someone would have if they could manage the clouds. A sequence about the Vietnam War is particularly harrowing as it highlights how the Americans seeded clouds to wreak havoc in Vietnam. Oddly, the filmmakers put their faith in a treaty to stop such crimes from happening again, even though history has taught us that countries can abandon treaties when they no longer suit them. The issue of science versus ethics is complicated, and Halttunen manages to deal with it without becoming portentous and melodramatic, leaving the ultimate decision on what side to come down on to the audience.
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