09 November 2022

Spotlight on Prof Jenni Barclay and Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo

Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo, Prof Jenni Barclay with mountains in the background
L-R: Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo, Prof Jenni Barclay (Photo credit: Teresa Armijos Burneo)

A tribute trilogy of films about the people affected by the Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia, researched and produced by Prof Jenni Barclay (ENV) and Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo (DEV), has won an award at the inaugural Earth Futures Film Festival.

A tribute trilogy of films about the people affected by the Nevado del Ruiz explosion, has won an award at the international STREVA Film Festival. They were researched and produced by Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo (DEV), Prof Jenni Barclay (ENV) and Dr Anna Hicks (then ENV, now working at the British Geological Survey), with their various research partners and collaborators, as part of the STREVA project.

The films were shortlisted for the ‘Woman in Geoscience’ category award and won the group ‘Dynamic Earth’ theme award for Best Picture at the inaugural Earth Futures Film Festival.

The festival aims to connect geosciences and the arts to raise awareness of the role Earth Science can play in building our sustainable future. Organised in association with UNESCO’s Geoscience Program and the International Union of Geosciences, 927 films were submitted to the festival, with just 21 making the Earth Futures film finalist selections. The ‘Dynamic Earth’ award was presented to projects concerned with understanding geological systems, active planet processes and rates of change in the geosphere.

Each of the tribute films focus on different topics of discussion around the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in western Colombia, which erupted on 13 November 1985, producing a powerful explosion that melted its icecap and caused a mudflow to power down the slopes killing 23,000 people. The trilogy is dedicated to the memories of these people, as well as the survivors, for the use of people still at risk from volcanic eruptions around the world today.

STREVA (Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas) was an innovative interdisciplinary project which aims to analyse volcanic risk and create novel ways to communicate and apply new knowledge. Led by UEA, the project brought together researchers from universities and research institutes in the UK and areas affected by volcanic activity.

Prof Barclay was the Principal Investigator (PI) for the project, responsible for bringing all the collaborators across the world together successfully and leading on research, while Dr Armijos Burneo, at the time a Senior Research Associate, organised and oversaw the filming process in Colombia alongside Dr Anna Hicks and female geoscientists at Servicio Geologico Colombiano (SGC). 
The films were produced in a partnership between UEA women in academia and female geologists and psychologists in Colombia, and directed by Norwich-based Lambda films, a company founded by UEA alumni Alex Morris and Ryan Stone. 

Alex Morris said: “It was an immense privilege to tell the stories of those who remembered the story of Armero for future generations. As a company founded by UEA graduates ourselves, working with STREVA and the UEA team on this suite of films still remains a career highlight today and we hope to produce further films together in future.”

The UEA PVC Impact Fund, which is run by Prof Fiona Lettuce, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, also provided vital financial support for the creation of the films. This fund supports impact activities across the University and aims to increase the impact of UEA research beyond academia; funds originate from the University's Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) and are competitively awarded.

We spoke with Jenni and Teresa, who shared their personal experiences and reasons behind the creation of the tribute films, from the importance of platforming stories from people with lived experiences of natural disasters to the positive effects that stem from unique collaborations with others.

1. How does it feel to win these two awards and be recognised for your work?

JB: “I am particularly pleased with this recognition. STREVA was a project made special by the contribution we had from several excellent female early career researchers. I'm really pleased to say they all remain to this day in this field: Teresa, Anna Hicks, and our colleagues at SGC, an organisation that also has inspirational female geoscientists.

“We took a risk with these films. We didn't want to sell the traditional horror story of why to avoid volcanic eruptions, we wanted to put the experiences of the communities who have to do this at the front of the filming process, for them to share what to expect and how to prepare. Winning a ‘Dynamic Earth’ award is a sign that this approach is not only the right thing to do, but it also has interesting perspectives to offer.”

TAB: “It feels really good, and I think both awards are really interesting and recognise our collaborative work in different ways. It’s great to see these films go beyond UK and Colombian audiences to faraway places like Australia. 

“It’s important that there's recognition for this type of approach; to not show the images of the Nevado del Ruiz eruption and instead focus on the stories of people. It’s the idea that we can still react and empathise as humans with the story this way – we don't need to see visually shocking or disrespectful images to feel emotion and empathy for those affected.

“These awards matter because they are an acknowledgement that different forms of knowledge can do better together. For the films, we brought together people from different sciences, working across faculties and departments, and this is something that we should be proud of at UEA. It’s about genuine collaboration, recognising different forms of knowledge, and not believing science is better than the lived experiences and knowledge of the people affected.”

 2. Why did you want to tell these stories about Nevado del Ruiz? Who or what inspired you?

JB: “STREVA worked in several locations across Latin America and the Caribbean. To be honest with you these three films happened because we also made films in Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, and we made those films because when we talked with people on the island, they told us that they wanted their own experiences of eruptions heard and recorded. When we mentioned this in Colombia, they liked this idea too, because of course why wouldn't you?

“So, the short answer is that the communities who contributed to our project on reducing risk inspired us! They are why we wanted to do this.” 

TAB: “It is important to honour the people that have passed. Freddy, one of the people interviewed in the first film and now a friend of mine, talks about honouring the lives of not only those who died, but the ones who survived. For us, it was very important to do that by taking an ethical approach to filming. And these people’s stories are ones we can all relate to in that they’re about grief, but also hope. It’s this idea that we cannot dwell in grief – we need hope that we can do something about it.

“In some ways, this eruption changed the way people dealt with a lot of issues around Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). People started focusing a lot more on prevention, not just response. When you watch the news, you turn on the TV and it's all about the response. We only see when the hurricane has already hit. Our work with DRR revolves around the argument that we need to prepare because disaster starts brewing before it actually happens.”

Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo
Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo filming in Colombia

3. What was the filming process in Colombia like?

TAB: “Jenni had the vision and curiosity, and brought all of us together, while I spent around three months in and out of Nevado del Ruiz: talking to people, traveling to places, and organising with our partners in Colombia. It was a privilege and something that I will never forget. It’s something that marks your life forever. 
“The people we interviewed in the trilogy were those we had got to know well already in advance of filming. I had visited some of their homes and spent time with them, alongside my Colombian colleagues, which meant there was a lot of trust between us. The interviews and the stories they told us were amazing, all very personal and beautiful to hear about, and we're still very close to the people we spoke with. Continuing these relationships is very important for us and the relationships we have built with them are genuine.” 
JB: “We were very lucky that Lambda Films agreed to work with us on this project because they also believed in the idea. We’re very grateful for their generosity and the time they spent making sure we got this right, and for the UEA Impact funding, without which this project wouldn’t have been possible.”  

4. What benefits do you see coming from these films for the people and communities affected by the Nevado del Ruiz eruption? 

JB: “We've shown the films in the communities impacted, and they are reused a lot. For them, there is also a value in just having a part of their story told.” 
TAB: “We've also made sure that the films reach out to the people they were made for, the ones living in Colombia and other countries affected by volcanic eruptions. The people we’ve spoken to, the generations that lived through the Nevado del Ruiz disaster, have told us they don't want younger people to forget about what happened. To avoid people forgetting, it’s important to make sure that the films reach the people they are supposed to. 
“There are also benefits in terms of education and disaster risk because the films are being used by universities in Colombia to teach students. I also show the films when I teach here at UEA, and I know many of my other UK colleagues do too. They continue using the films for us, meaning it has educational purposes as well as reaching out to bigger groups of people. 
“I’ve worked with Jenni for many years now and all of what we do is really for the people that we work with and for. One of the privileges of working here at UEA is that there’s potential for the University to do research that cares for people and has impact, and in fact in many areas we are already doing exactly that.”


Prof. Jenni Barclay

Dr Teresa Armijos Burneo

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