Del Mar Heights filmmaker discusses upcoming doc ‘Canary,’ spotlighting climate research by Lonnie Thompson

"Canary" will be in theaters in September.
Copyright Alex Rivest

A full-length documentary coming to theaters in September from Del Mar Heights scientist-turned-filmmaker Alex Rivest details one scientist’s quest to study climate change through glaciers on some of the tallest mountains in the world.

Lonnie Thompson, who has published hundreds of peer-reviewed publications on climate change based on his research, is the subject of the film “Canary.” His work has taken him to places such as the South American Andes, the Himalayas and Mount Kilimanjaro.

“I had never climbed a mountain,” Thompson said in the film, describing the beginning of his work. “I had no idea what it would take.”

Rivest, who has a PhD in neuroscience from MIT and studied the brain circuits underlying episodic memory formation, came across Thompson and his research as he was screening scientists for a television project. He decided to turn his attention to the documentary to focus exclusively on Thompson.

Alex Rivest
(Copyright Alex Rivest)

He recalled turning to his partner on the project, Danny O’Malley, and saying “if there’s a single story we ever tell in this world, it has to be this one.” Their goal was also to capture the emotion and urgency behind the science.

“Climate change is not only disrupting our future, but it’s erasing our ability to look at the past,” Rivest said.

He added that Thompson’s work fit the theme he wanted to explore, which was scientists who were seeking uncharted territory to advance their work.

“Curiosity alone can allow you to explore the planet,” Rivest said. “So I had this idea that I wanted to share that impulse.”

Thompson’s work has demonstrated how tropical regions have suffered the impacts of climate change and observed how glaciers around the world are melting. Throughout his career, he’s led more than 60 field expeditions and received more than 70 research grants. Thompson is also a professor in the School of Earth Sciences and a research scientist in the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State.

Rivest said he wants viewers to feel compelled to make a difference after watching the film, in either efforts to combat climate change or any other challenges they face in life.

“Lonnie’s story shows us that this is the same with every type of issue,” Rivest added. “There’s a more universal message in here. There are a lot of things in anyone’s life that feel impossible, dreams that feel out of reach, medical issues that feel like they’re going to totally change the scope of your dreams. What Lonnie’s story shows is that doesn’t have to be the case. Persistence and the attitude of always trying to figure something out. There is something in there for all of us, in any walk of life. We can tackle the big issues and make a difference personally, but also on bigger issues like climate change.”

Screening locations include AMC Fashion Valley on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

“This is a film that was made for the big screen, so I would like to share it with the community on the big screen,” Rivest said.

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