a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Beautiful Islands / ビューティフルアイランズ

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Unless assigned I try not to write about films I don’t like. Sometimes, though, because a film is so bad, or pretends to be something it is not, I am compelled to put my thoughts on paper. It’s akin to being a moral witness. By not saying anything, I myself become a complicitor and share the burden of guilt. This is something that I cannot bear, knowing that I have said nothing, letting guilt and shame ride me to my grave.

Where do I start with Beautiful Islands?  The ostensible reason for director Tomoko Kana submitting the world her extremely dishonest images is a nobel one – documenting the effects of global warming on three island communities, Tuvalu, Venice and Shishmaref. Three years of junkets to these disparate parts of the world have produced footage that looks like – well, three years of junkets. Taking advantage of her privilege, she not only failed to make a coherent film but it appears she didn’t even try.

Using minimal and misleading texts, she set scenes of islands disappearing from global warming. These islands most likely are and it’s not too premature to sound the alarm, but Beautiful Islands loads mis-statements, loaded images and intellectual flabbiness (or should I be more honest and say vapidity) not only don’t illustrate her (minimal) theme, but actively undermine it. If there is ever a movie that would hurt the cause, this is it.

For example, she set a case of disappearance of permafrost (caused by global warming) as weakening the frozen land of Shishmaref and the disappearing ice fields as allowing more and more violent winter storms to batter this newly defenseless land. However when she shows an image of frozen earth and images of winter storms that have always been common to the area she fails miserably. Where are the facts, Ma’am? And the images to support them. And when humanizing the dilemma, why not mention that the 1st Nations people who live on this island were once nomadic, but are now stuck all year on their traditional winter hunting grounds. Their now “permanent” settlement was never meant to be permanent. This is a big part of the tragedy of their current plight. Unmentioned?

And what about the Venice junket. Images of Venice flooding are a dime a dozen. It’s been going on for centuries. There’s been much talk, but not much done about it. Of course rising oceans will affect Venice, but it ain’t happening yet.  During high tides, Venice floods. But tell me, show me it’s more severe. Make the connection. Don’t just show me images of carnival!

There’s a sort of smugness to Beautiful Islands that appalls. It’s like Kana-san is saying, hey, I’ve been there and you never will, because it will be gone by the time you do get there. It’s a sort of perverse eco-tourism.

I’m all for activist cinema. Beautiful Islands isn’t. It’s inactivist cinema. A cinema that delights in the tragedies of others. That offers hopelessness and cynicism as the only possible solution.  She has attempted to justify her awful film by claiming it puts a human face on the upcoming eco-catastrophe. She fills the screen with a lot of cute kids. By any means, she has exploited the innocence of her unwitting subjects. In a word (or two), eco-porn. Of the worst sort.

To add insult to the injury of Beautiful Islands, her production company has developed an Iphone app that allows you to upload landscape and cityscape photos and presto chango, they show what these places will look like after the oncoming global warming flood. Here are some samples from it.

I decided to do my own flood cam (via photoshop) and took Laramie (7,200 feet above sea level) to see what its downtown would look like when the water rises.


Written by Nicholas Vroman

July 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

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