Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Disappearing Pacific Island

I wanted to alert you to look for a documentary I learned about at an event last night. The film is called, There Once Was an Island, and tells the story of a tiny atoll in the South Pacific that faces an uncertain future. I haven't yet seen it, but it looks fascinating.

The island's future is uncertain because it appears to be sinking into the sea--a problem of some urgency for its isolated population of five hundred people.

The young woman who produced the film--thirty-year-old Briar March--is a New Zealander working on her MFA at Stanford University. She read about the atoll in 2006 and, with great difficulty, worked to tell its story.

The difficulty came because the island--near-but-not-so-near to Bouganville, in the Solomon Islands--can be reached by ship only once every two or three months and has no electricity. She and her crew had to use solar panels to charge their equipment, remaining on the island for months at a time and living, along with the natives, in thatched huts without indoor plumbing.

March is from an arty family of Kiwis--(she described her parents as hippies!)--and she's already won a Fulbright Fellowship in addition to her scholarships to Stanford University, so she is clearly a talented young woman.

Briar March, center, with her parents in New Zealand.

I found her point of view interesting because she did not immediately attribute the island's problems to global warming. Instead, she did real research on what is happening there: ("It's complicated," she said). She also worked to make a difference: bringing a scientist with her on one visit, so GPS mapping could be used to help the population make informed decisions about evacuating.

While she was there, there was a flood. I hate to call that a filmmaker's dream--because it clearly wasn't a good thing for the locals--but it is the kind of thing that clearly helped her tell the story.

As a television news reporter, it took me several years to realize that my job was like the job of a documentarian (though slightly more low brow): I was making little non-fiction movies every day. A good story was almost never difficult to tell. If a story was difficult to tell, it generally wasn't a good story.

Not a problem with this tale. Keep your eye out for this award-winning film.

There Once Was An Island: Te Henua e Nnoho, produced by Briar March and Lyn Collie. For more information click on:

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