Review: There Once Was An Island

Peter Calde

Unsensational, intimate and quietly passionate, March’s meticulously observed examination of the crisis facing the small atoll of Takuu is an object lesson in patient documentary film-making .

March’s first documentary feature, the excellent Allie Eagle and Me, traced the pioneering feminist artist’s journey from lesbian separatist to fundamentalist Christian.

For this film, she made two trips to the atoll, 250km northeast of the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, charting the inexorable rise of the oceans swallowing the island and compiling a lucid, compelling and often visually ravishing portrait of Takuu life.

The sea is a constant, menacing presence in the film but, March’s camera finds the ineffable beauty in the environment too, sharpening the poignancy of the loss happening before her (and our) eyes.

More important she shows plainly what is at stake for the islanders as they debate what they should do. Ethnically and culturally Polynesian in a Melanesian country, they are far from comfortable with the plans to relocate them to the mainland – to a plantation, far from the sea and surrounded by a decade-long civil war. The proposal, which seems to be not much more than bureaucratic hot air in any case, takes no account of the cost in economic, never mind cultural, terms of uprooting a people from their ancestral home.

Rising oceans will displace hundreds of millions over the next half century and Takuu is the canary in climate change’s coal mine. This sobering and important film is a warning to the world, if only it would listen.