“Someplace with a Mountain” of Scam

(Click on image for film trailer)

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. In a public screening at UC Santa Barbara, Steve was publicly doing a fundraising campaign to purchase an island in French Polynesia for the people of Polowat. It seems the film subtitles were simply a means to that end.

His film was manipulative to support his fundraising efforts. 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.

Vid Raatior
Vid is the founder of Raatior Ventures. He is an educator by training and a social entrepreneur by vocation. Originally from Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Vid lives in Hilo, Hawaii, works at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, attends UH Manoa, and is the founder of a number of Pacific focused initiatives. Previously, he served for over 10 years at Santa Clara University, 5 years as a teacher and Assistant Director at Xavier High School in Micronesia.

Comments

  1. james kinder (PC/Polowat, 79/80) says:

    worse, goodall grossly mistranslates islanders words in the version i saw for dramatic effect and his own ends! shameful!

  2. I have my friend talking about this. Presenting the same message about an injustice to the Polowatese. I am looking for the current situation. Do you know what the currenct status is? Are there discontented Polowatese on the island of Yap now?

  3. Vid Raatior says:

    I received this email back on January 27, 2013 from a Dave Stoeber who wrote the following:

    “I’m still trying to digest your bitter pill regarding the film by Steve Goodall. I aplogize that I drive an SUV to my favorite surf spots here in San Diego & that I contributed to the demise of our atmosphere, but after just learning of my impact on the environment, it becomes very difficult to completely change gears & live in a grass hut by the sea. We do our part, but we are immersed in a culture here as well as in Micronesia. Why are you bad-mouthing Steve Goodall’s efforts, and the wealthy who are writing checks to help these people? What are supposed to do from here…watch them drown? Would you prefer we sell our cars…and ride bikes & hope for the best for these people? Your words are confusing the issue here & I feel are harmful.”

    • And here’s my email response to Dave Stoeber:

      Hello, David

      Thank you for adding to the dialogue. A couple of responses.

      1) Steve Goodall or the wealthy are NOT helping “these people.” They are NOT helping anyone by making an exploitative film or by writing checks to make themselves feel better about their bad decisions.

      2) Steve Goodall’s film is NOT accurate at all. The translations are not accurate; he wrote in the subtitles what he feels is compelling to rich Americans to write their checks. You cannot in good conscience call that a documentary. Call it a work of fiction and let rich Americans fund his creative work, but don’t say he is representing the desires of the people who did not say what he claims they said.

      3) Steve Goodal is manipulating rich people who obviously care about helping people to buy himself an island. Sure, the rich people can write checks to Steve Goodall for his filmmaking endeavors, but none of that money is making its way back to the people he supposedly set out to help. I know because I know the chiefs on that island.

      4) Steve Goodall is exploiting my relatives to buy himself an island in French Polynesia. NO ONE on the island of Polowat asked to be moved off that island. NO ONE asked him to go buy an island in French Polynesia with no plans on how he would manage to move an entire people who are NOT citizens of France to that island. Has he dealt with that country to get their approval to issue passports to all those 400 people? Are you helping to deal with that real problem?

      5) No one is asking you go live in huts to make yourself feel good about causing havoc on other countries in the world. So get over your self-righteous American attitude that you can simply go live in huts and that will make it right for your country’s irresponsible decisions on the environment. It’s better for you to talk to your leaders to live by what they claim as the world’s caretaker and make responsible decisions.

      6) If you are one of those that have been brainwashed by Steve Goodall’s sob story, please snap out of it. Steve Goodall is not helping us nor did we ask him to help us by buying an island that we have no desire to move to. We’d rather drown than go along with Steve Goodall’s manipulative crap.

      Again, thanks.

      Vid

      • Mary Rauner says:

        Dear Vid, Your response was perfect and articulate. Thank you for your work, your passion and your vision. Mary

  4. Hi Vid,

    I just saw the documentary on PBS last night — and I was completely blown away by the inaccuracy of the translation!!! I didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry.

    It was confusing as the footage will show outer islanders of Yap and Chuuk together as if it’s the one and same island. I couldn’t help but wonder why relocate the people of Polowat to Yap? The Chuuk Lagoon is the closest, and I know there are family and clan ties in Chuuk (Weno, Tolowas, Feffen, etc) for the people of Polowat.

    I also didn’t know that Steve Goodall (at least, I didn’t see it in the film) is trying to move these people to French Polynesian. That is total pwon alou!

    • Ran allim, Ti. You felt the same emotion I had when I first viewed the film back in 2011. Still inaccurate and manipulative.

      I think Goodall happened to be going to Yap State on his global travels and felt it was an ideal storyline for him to meet with the governor. I contacted my friend Larry Raigetal from Yap who was interviewed in the film and was part of the meeting with the governor. He said Steve basically showed up and presented himself as speaking on behalf of the people of Polowat. The problem is that Raigetal is part Polowatese so he thought it was legit. He said Steve left and they never heard back from him until I contacted him about the film for this article.

      The piece about Goodall raising funds to buy an island in French Polynesia was not in the film. I was contacted by someone at UC Santa Barbara who had lived in Micronesia and understood the situation out there. She went to the film screening and was suspicious that the filmmaker presented to the audience the picture of the island that is up for sale and that he plans to buy it for the Polowatese. Thatʻs when she contacted me to verify. I then contacted Chief John Uruo from Polowat who was living in Guam to inquire about the validity of the filmʻs request by him as the chief of Rewow on Polowat. He denied the request.

      The crazy thing happened back in 2011. Steve Goodall drove all the way from whereever, showed up at my front door unannounced and went on to try to defend his film saying crazy things like he couldnʻt find translators from Polowat in the US so he did the best he could. Imagine that…the best he could was for him to translate it according to his own message. He also said that having an island where they can move to is good for the Polowatese. In other words, this is his idea of a solution so he presented it as coming from the Polowatese. It was nuts! We had a heated debate in my house in Soquel, CA and he left, got back on his motorcycle, and drove of. Never heard from him again. I think he thought he could come and somehow convince me to go along with him. #StandUpforthePacific, #PacificFocused

      • Vid, I am so disturbed when reading this shocking news about my beloved Island call polowat, for the fact that someone is doing fund raising, to so call helping my fellow polowatites for his personal gain. I, Diophil Ikea, a son of Polowat do not agree with Steve Goodall’s idea of helping the people of polowat by relocating them to an island of his own in French Polonesia pwe ehop ina meta epwe solveini osukosukan global warming nge epwe createini alot of problems akaw me lein wa far mentionini earlier pwal ew pwopwun ai iha tipaew ngani pwe are i mina epwe moni fanuwenan iwe wewen ma nge fanuwan polowat for that very reason I CAN NOW SPEAK ON BEHALF OF THE PEOPLE OF POLOWAT BY SAYING TO STEVE WE ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE OTHER THAN OUR BELOVED ISLAND POLOWAT

  5. Michael K says:

    Just watched this. You make some good points but I do wonder if you are being hyper-critical. I seriously doubt the film maker had any other motive than to raise awareness and help. I have never been to Puluwat but did live on Yap’s main islands for a couple of years and personally know several people In the video. Everyone seems to me to be trying to help. I don’t know anything about raising money to buy an island anywere and cannot find anything online about it. But I bet this guy put in more money than he got out of it trying to help. And I know it could have been more thorough, but he did state at the end that the translations were “provided in written form by those who were recorded” or something like that.

    I get the distrust of outsiders given our legacy. But choose your battles well or you may just lose some of your best allies.

    • Thank you, Michael, for your comments. My critical comments about the film was based on the version that was sent to my by staff at UC Santa Barbara where the filmmaker was screening the film as part of a fundraising campaign to purchase an island in French Polynesia supposedly to move the people of Polowat. It was a public event and the version of the film that was sent to me for that event had English subtitles that were completely not what the subjects were saying in the film. He created his own translations to fit the audience and his need to fundraise. And that was confirmed by the filmmaker himself when he showed up unannounced at my home in Santa Cruz, CA to confront me about my critical comments in this post. He did admit that he couldnʻt get translators so he did what he could; and that meant creating his own meaning out of my peopleʻs words in which they were simply describing life on the island. Nothing to do with wanting to move or to purchase an island in another country. I spoke to the real chief of Polowat who was living in Guam at that time of the film and he had no idea about this filmaker raising money to buy an island for his people. He was upset that his nephew was represented by the filmmaker as the chief when he wasnʻt; there were elders on the island who should have been appropriately consulted, but the filmmaker did not. I hear what youʻre saying, Michael, about picking the fight lest we lose allies. Believe me I do pick my fights. This is one that needed to be fought on behalf of my people. What would you do when you discover that someone who claimed to be your friend who you had let into your house was stealing from you? Wouldnʻt you rethink the friendship? Would you question his motive for wanting to be invited to your Christmas party at your home? Thieves are thieves are thieves no matter how you cut it. I am sure the filmmaker has stopped trying to raise money to buy an island in French Polynesia because heʻs been exposed for the fraud that he is.