The Great Green Wall

Illustration: The Great Green Wall.

For today’s UN World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, we put the spotlight on last year’s Gold Dolphin-winning production company MAKE WAVES and their outstanding documentary The Great Green Wall.

Produced by MAKE WAVES with Executive Producer Fernando Meirelles and directed by Jared P. Scott, The Great Green Wall follows Malian singer and activist Inna Modja on an epic journey along Africa's Great Green Wall — an ambitious vision to grow an 8,000km wall of trees stretching across the entire continent to fight back against runaway climate change, severe resource scarcity, increased conflict, and mass migration. Launched in 2007 by the African Union, the project aims to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions – the Sahel. If the wall is completed by 2030, it will become the largest living structure on earth.

The documentary The Great Green Wall is described as a visual and musical journey across the Sahel region to the front line of the climate crisis. It outlines socio-economic and socio-political issues in this region but inspires and brings hope at the same time, by showing that there will be ways to combat the issues through strong solidarity and international cooperation on several levels.

We are delighted that we had the chance to talk to former BBC investigative journalist Sarah Macdonald, Executive Producer on The Great Green Wall documentary and Co-Founder of MAKE WAVES, about her experiences on the Great Green Wall project, giving us some insights into this truly exceptional documentary.

Sarah Macdonald
Sarah Macdonald
  1. When did you first hear of the Great Green Wall initiative and why did MAKE WAVES decide to support this project?

    MAKE WAVES was approached by the UNCCD and asked to consider making a film about the Great Green Wall. I had never heard of it, but like everyone who is introduced to the project, I was immediately fascinated and intrigued. Making a film about growing trees is very challenging for filmmakers but the idea of making a film that captures such a grand vision was definitely a lure for us. We knew that this was a film that was to help spread the word, as much on the African continent as the rest of the world.

  2. Regarding your experience as a woman in this very male-dominated industry, was a strong female main character leading through the documentary fundamental for you?

    It was important for us to have a strong and interesting female protagonist because we knew that many of our characters would be male – from other musicians Inna collaborated with, to the refugees she met along the way, to the very male-dominated African Union… Sometimes we have to make conscious decisions about whether we are seeking a male or female perspective – two very different approaches to the GGW and to how opinions are expressed.

    Sian Kevill, my business partner in MAKE WAVES, and I are one of the few British production companies founded by two women. I have to admit that we openly seek to support minority and women throughout all our productions, whether in hiring crew, or in the people we interview and include in our films.

  3. Although the documentary is more an emotional journey than a technical/scientific documentary about the climate crisis, how do you feel it will help motivate more people about getting involved in the Great Green Wall project or other environmental initiatives?

    We specifically set out to tell a human story – not a science story – through tangible, relatable emotional narratives (like the Boko Haram girls). We banned anyone in white coats to avoid being perceived as lecturing the viewers. There is definitely a place for science, but for us, we knew it would be fully represented in the outreach campaign that accompanies the film, so a little bit of imbalance is acceptable.

    We also wanted to make a solutions-based film, that left viewers feeling positive and empowered to do something, anything, to help battle the consequences of climate change. The film's ultimate positivity is what has really attracted people and has led to us now working with other filmmakers and platforms, to make more films about the environment, also from a solutions-based perspective. You can read about our new slate of films here (full Deadline article) — we are very honored to be continuing our collaborations with the hugely talented director, Fernando Meirelles. Fernando has been a kind, generous, and supportive producer on the Great Green Wall, and our new slate.

Thanks to the Great Green Wall initiative, there is a glimpse of hope that degraded land gets restored, jobs are created, and the biodiversity can recover. And so does this beautiful documentary give hope by telling a story of optimism, revealing a new African generation that is ready to take their fate into their own hands and that declares war on climate change.

Read more about the Great Green Wall initiative and find detailed information on their official website: