Briar March and Lyn Collie have been working on There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho since 2006. Our four-year journey to complete the film has involved contributions from many people and organizations, all pitching in to tell the story of Takuu and the plight of its community as climate change progresses. We have grown as filmmakers and as people through the challenges and opportunities that the project has offered, and are very pleased to finally present Takuu’s story to a wider audience.
We began making the film after seeing an article about Richard Moyle, an anthropologist who has worked on Takuu every other summer for the last 16 plus years. He mentioned that the atoll appeared to be suffering the first impacts of climate change including salty gardens and coastal erosion. Richard was able to give us permission to make a film about the issue on behalf of the Ariki, or chief, of the atoll. We shopped the idea around a variety of production companies but had no takers, and were eventually thrust into the independent filmmaking mode when we received $25,000 from the Screen Innovation Production Fund here in New Zealand (now discontinued). We then got an additional $8000 from Robbers Dog Films and about $1000 from Occasional Productions, plus in-kind support from Sony, Panasonic, Oxfam, Cinestuff and Flying Fish. Enough to go!
In under six weeks we had completed an extremely challenging pre-production period (including sourcing a technical support for Briar in the form of Zane Holmes). Suddenly the crew were off to shoot a film in a place with no electricity or shops, travelling on the less-than-reliable atoll service boat. You can read about our hair-raising experiences in pre-pro and on the shoot in our blog here and here.
On returning home we struggled to locate the story. Like anywhere, Takuu is a complex society and the myriad of problems the community face are exacerbated by their poverty and political context. For an idea of what kinds of issues they face go here. Expressing the core relationship between the impact of climate change and its impact on everything else wasn’t going to be possible without recording the passage of time, experienced by specific characters. We made plans to seek further funding and return to Takuu.
After nearly two years of fundraising we had cobbled together approximately another $90,000 from the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust and later on, Pacific Islanders in Communications – enough to make it back. During the first shoot the community asked for scientists to come and look at the atoll, so this was something we felt strongly about. Briar located two scientists, oceanographer John Hunter, and geomorphologist Scott Smithers, who were interested in coming to Takuu to study the various issues being experienced by the community. We now had a crew of five, including our sound recordist Jeffrey Holdaway, Briar, Lyn, John and Scott.
The second shoot went smoothly as we were able to charter a boat for support and because Lyn was able to run the production office, taking the pressure off the rest of the crew. Not that this second shoot was without its dramas – you can read about the big flood that we captured on video here, and about our journey and antics here. The flood and the presence of the scientists forced our three main participants to really consider their relationship to the atoll and its community and whether they should leave to find safety elsewhere or fight to stay.
On our return to New Zealand, we were privileged to be able to keep using Zane’s offline edit suite, without which the film would not have been cut. The offline process was long and arduous and would not have been possible without the relentless dedication of editor Prisca Bouchet and assistant editor Andrew Chung, with translator Rose Tione and Briar working tirelessly alongside. The music for the film really takes it from a well-told story to something that still moves us when we watch it. Marshall Smith and Tom Fox of The Sound Room created the main score, with additional tracks from Mark Smythe. The story came together slowly and we screened the results for several test audiences before signing it off.
In post-production we received more funding from the Screen Innovation Production Fund and much later, from the New Zealand Film Commission. This, plus amazing support from Images and Sound, Toybox, Liquid Studios and Sony has allowed us to master up from our HDV shooting format to a gorgeous HDCAMSR master. We are very excited to be able to show the film to audiences at last and hope that you get a chance to screen it!