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Dr Timothy Clack advisor for award-winning documentary

29 April 2024

Photo by Pietro Jeng:
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Three people on a stage holding microphones. One is speaking into a microphone while the other two watch.

On Wednesday 10 April, Dr Timothy Clack was invited to a private screening of the film The Grab at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford.

Described as a 'global thriller' and an 'astonishing, eye-opening documentary' by Variety, the film follows investigative reporter, Nathan (Nate) Halverson as he travels from the US to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East to uncover the finances, motivations and effects of certain states taking steps to control the world’s most vital resources – food and water. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (who also directed Blackfish), the critically acclaimed film won the Best Documentary award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Dr Clack was the technical advisor on the film. He said, ‘The experience of working with Gabriela, Nate and many others on the film was tremendous. To witness the forensic nature of investigative journalism and character-driven storytelling come together was a privilege.’

‘To see how my research into conflict, climate change, and human responses to food and water scarcity in different parts of the world could contextualise and inform such a film was immense. As researchers, we tend to communicate in quite narrow ways through publications and conferences but film is different and, when done well, offers incredible reach, enhances understanding, raises awareness, and gets people to think about things differently.’

Linked to the film, Dr Clack devised and delivered a two-day wargame at St Peter’s. (A wargame is a tabletop exercise where participants adopt specific roles in a scenario and then play out actions and responses in ‘turns’). The St Peter’s wargame, which was based on a fictional scenario involving two state powers in Africa, exposed the far-reaching implications of the current situation.

Dr Clack said, 'I was able to assemble in Oxford a cohort of great people from the Climate Change & (In)Security Project, which I direct, as well as other researchers and technologists, many of whom have extensive experience of the NGO sector, armed forces and diplomacy.'

‘To have a senior general from the UK and another from The Netherlands, a former ambassador, and a cast of world-class researchers and practitioners respond to your scenario in front of the lights and cameras was remarkable. Then seeing the wargame’s turns visualised on large, digital screens thanks to a state-of-the-art synthetic environment made available by the technology company Improbable took things to the next level.’

'The wargame showed how food security is not only a human security issue but, for many states, a critical national security one. It demonstrated the kinds of things that could happen in the near term, such as price spikes, famine, displacement, social unrest and conflict, if the situation goes on unchecked. But, as ever, if the problems are ones of politics and human agency so are the solutions.'

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media, The Grab will be released in cinemas and on streaming platforms, including Disney and Hulu, on 14 June.

About Dr Clack

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Dr Clack is Chingiz Gutseriev Research Fellow at St Peter’s College and Associate Professor in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Dr Clack’s research primarily focuses on conflict, identities, cultural heritage and memory. He has spent much of his career engaged in research projects in Eastern Africa, Central Asia, the South Atlantic and the UK, and has published and edited works exploring the cultural and environmental impact of conflict and war.

You can learn more about Dr Clack and his work here.