Update: Nov. 15, 2015 – This article was originally posted in December 2011 when the film was first released. I am re-posting it because the film is once again showing on PBS. Yet, the questions I raised in this blog and to Steve personally have never been answered. Do watch the film, but beware of what you’re funding if you decide to give your hard earned money to relocate the people of Polowat without their consent. – Vid
I’ve just seen Steve Goodall’s film entitled, “Someplace with a Mountain” which left me speechless and flabbergasted. Having seen the YouTube trailer over the summer, I was anxious to see the film to revisit life as I knew it on Polowat and support the efforts to educate people on the real negative impact of global warming on low-lying islands such as the outer islands in Chuuk, Micronesia. I was born and raised on the nearby islands of Onoun (formerly Ulul), Tamatam, and Houk (formerly Pulusuk) so a film about the dangers of global warming on a remote island as Polowat where I have relatives and friends was…well worth seeing.
As I began to view the PBS version of the film, the great anticipation was gradually replaced by confusion, disbelief, horror, and anger. The filmmaker set out to chronicle the simplicity and beauty of life on Polowat complete with vivid cinematography, narration by Chevy Chase of SNL fame, and interview clips from the elders. While the film would inspire wealthy Americans to help Goodall’s initiative, I was left with feeling used and objectified. I grew up on nearby islands of Houk, Tamatam, and Onoun. I have been on Polowat. I know the people who were interviewed in the film, yet the story line, the interview clips, the scenery, and the message did not match up completely. Perhaps my view of the film was tainted by the news that the Goodall is using the film to raise millions of dollars from unsuspecting wealthy Americans to buy an island in French Polynesia to which he plans to relocate the people of Polowat.
The filmmaker’s agenda is questionable. It seems like he wants to buy himself an island and the film is simply a means to that end. Why else would he deliberately choose scenes from several islands in as far away as Yap State and made it appear as though this film is about the island of Polowat. Why would he want to raise millions to buy an island in French Polynesia when nowhere in the interview footages did anyone asked to be relocated to an entirely new country where they would become refugees of the global warming wars among industrialized nations. Why relocate the Polowatese thousands of miles away when there are plenty lands to be purchased on the mountainous lagoon of Chuuk State? If Goodall really cares about getting the message of the Polowatese to the global community, why did he choose not to include sub-title translation of the interview clips so people can understand what was being said?
The film romanticizes the plight of the Polowatese which detracts the viewers from the greater need of bringing awareness to the negative impact of climate change. For the wealthy Americans who need to “help” these poor uneducated souls from a foreign island whose island is about to sink under the weight of global warming…financing Goodall’s island will seem the best solution. Yet, lost in all those checkbooks is the real way to help the Polowatese and all the islanders in Micronesia and throughout the world; i.e. political and personal will to slow down global warming. These rich donors probably easily write a large check to Mr. Goodall without thinking twice about the fact that their lifestyle in fact contributes to climate change. Do we even think about how the Polowatese and those living on small low lying islands are impacted by our big SUVs, our continued use of plastic bags at our exclusive grocery stories, our golf courses that consume alot of water, private yacht and jets with huge carbon emissions?
Does Goodall really think the islanders want to move from the homes of their ancestors? The late FSM Ambassador to the United Nations Mr. Masao Nakayama said it perfectly in an interview on ABC News when asked where the islanders can be relocated. He said, “We don’t want to go anywhere. We want to stay in our islands.” The people may want to stay where their ancestors are buried, where their cultures are intact, where they know they belong (not in some foreign country where we will become refugees), where they own lands (not on an island owned by Mr. Goodall who can just as easily kick us off his property), where they know their reefs to catch their fish, where they are free to be themselves and live by their own cultures rather than becoming objectified as rarities.
I am suspicious of Mr. Goodall’s intentions to purchase an island in beautiful South Pacific. How does he plan to secure the Polowatese people’s citizenship in French Polynesia since most Polowatese have never left the island and have no passports? Will Mr. Goodall buy them all French citizenship too? Will there be a sequel documentary called “Someplace with a Passport” which documents the Polowatese standing in line someplace with a French Embassy in their native attires trying to buy citizenship? How much money will Mr. Goodall need to raise then? And how much more money will the rich folks of Santa Barbara dish out to Mr. Goodall to educate the Polowatese in the new language which they will need to learn as citizens of the protectorate of France? Has Mr. Goodall secured all of the immigration issues before he plans to buy the people their island with a mountain? What happens if the Polowatese do not want to move there? Is he willing to turn over the property rights to the Polowatese? If so, are they legally able to own lands in French Polynesia?
Why move the people to a foreign country when there are plenty of mountains in Chuuk State? Afterall, Chuuk means mountain because the main lagoon has a lot of mountains. Aren’t those mountains large enough? Is Tahiti and the allure of the South Pacific the exact spot for Captain Goodall? Why focus on Polowat alone when there are three other islands (Houk, Tamatam, Pollap) in the same Pattiw region in the same if not worst state? Does he plan to buy them islands too to keep those clan systems which exist among all four islands intact? Why not raise millions to buy them lands on the mountainous islands nearby such as Weno, Toloas, Tol, Uman, etc?
To be fair to the filmmaker, the cinematography was fantastic and the footages on the reality of the negative impact of climate change are worth viewing the film. But I would not dare append the description of “documentary” to this film in the same sense that one expects historical accuracy of Ken Burns. I couldn’t help but think that the poor people of Polowat are being used as pawns in a Hollywood-minded filmmaker’s dream of making a ton of money to buy himself a nice piece of island in the blue ocean of French Polynesia. All I can think of as I listen to Chevy Chase’s narration of the film is his equally bad film, “Foul Play.”
Do watch the film to be introduced to the reality of life in several outer islands in the FSM states of Chuuk and Yap. Those are real footage of life to this day on those islands. They are indeed impacted negatively by climate change. We do need help, but relocation isn’t the solution. Big industrial nations such as the United States must do better in curbing carbon emissions by small lifestyle changes. Having been born and raised on those islands next to Polowat and making the decision to leave them to get an American education and now living and working at a university in Hawaii I can tell Americans that you have alot to learn from the simplicity of life in those islands. People there have no running water and electricity and yet people live happy and fulfilled lives.
But our decisions here in the U.S do indeed negatively impact my people who continue to struggle with taro patches that are rotted by sea level rising. So think about those before reaching for your check book. Your lifestyle change impacts us much more positively than buying Mr. Goodall an island…someplace with a mountain…of scam.