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August 2, 2010 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

There Once Was an Island: Te Henua E Nnoho


Today, climate change is defined by images of smoking industrial towers, footage of polar bears stranded on broken icebergs, and caricatures of American politicians. Breaking this stereotype, There Once Was an Island examines climate change through the eyes of those experiencing it first-hand. Yet, what should been an emotional examination of an island threatened by water results in a content-bloated flood of information that essentially loses focus and sincerity.

The film’s credit lies in modesty. A film about a world issue, it engages its audience by capturing it on a local stage and conveying it on a personal level that isn’t married to scientific jargon, multicolored diagrams or the pretension of Al Gore. Devastation isn’t depicted by dramatic footage of melting ice shelves, but in the humble loss of makeshift huts and school books. Supported by an impressive score, the film has some genuine emotional moments where culture loss and memory, and the concept of home, are truly conveyed and dealt with.

However, while it manages to put a human face on a somewhat distant issue, the film struggles in its ability to sustain the emotional response it hopes from its audience. Personal strife, political complications, social discord and the history of the culture proves to be too much content for the film, and the result is a muddled, rather than informed, product. Similarly, the film’s supposed focus on three main islanders isn’t made particularly clear, and their experiences are lost in the surrounding detail. Most disappointing, however, are the seemingly staged interactions between the islanders. Appearing scripted and forced, the exchanges come across as a device to plug more information or ‘depth’ into the film and its parallels with Hills-esque conversations are sorry ones.

There Once Was an Island has a premise of promise in its capture of this quietly frightening situation, yet the film fails by trying to incorporate too much background, and neglects the issue at its foreground. Ironically, in trying to develop a story from the context that surrounds the islanders, the film forgets its modest essence—its people—and produces a confused, slightly falsified, version of real experience.

There Once Was an Island: Te Henua E Nnoho
Director: Briar March


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