FILM FOR THOUGHT
Presented by the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities
“Connections are made during tough times, and they happen for a reason.”
LANDFALL begins on a beach. The ocean whispers, voices whisper, and shadows flicker over the faces of two women. Their voices grow stronger, as their friendship has, in the two years since Hurricane Maria. The camera flashes to the blue glow of their cell phones as they look at footage of the recent protest march of over 10,000 people to remove Puerto Rico’s territorial governor in response to the neglect and suffering . . . post-Maria.
“It was not the storm that was the tragedy. It was what came after. “
Shards of the storm’s devastation punctuate the film: over 5,000 dead, many of their families never able to bury them; standing for hours in a line of 60 people for food only to have the food run out; medics needing to choose between rescuing a pregnant mother or her children, as they can’t save both; expired bottled water sits in an overgrown vacant lot two years after Maria, unused; making four packages of noodles last a week; no gas; no federal aid; no ice; no food; no water. No water. Each glass fragment, sharp, piercing, and pieced together into one truth: the feelings of the people of Puerto Rico, that they, their lives, their families . . . don’t matter.
“An opportunity to reimagine a completely new Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico is a tourist mecca, marketed similarly to our Hawaiʻi. After Maria, luxury gated fortresses materialize, while families still huddle in their bathroom to stay dry when it rains. American billionaires who look like surf groms tout bitcoin business bonanza brainwash, while tight wiry women cry foul in their faces. And we feel how that takes everything. We visit villages where the young are leaving, and New York, where some end up. We tour Vieques, where a community lives between live fire training grounds and toxic military dump sites, bombing that continued until just 16 years ago, as families call their children . . . home.
“You must survey the land with tools, not with your own eyes as you’ve always done.”
LANDFALL takes us through many views of Puerto Rico; covering a jarringly contrasting map of the island, city to country, pasture to night club, rainforest to resort. The voices of the film are as varied, telling their stories as they feed chickens, organize a center to house people and teach them new job skills, or sit around a sumptuous table drinking wine. Their voices and faces—in sorrow, in dance, anguish and joy, make landfall . . . in our naʻau.
“Maria was like a big mop or broom, with bleach, it swept everything away.”
Though our struggles with the same colonizer pale in comparison, so much in this film resonates with Hawaiʻi nei. The bombing of Kahoʻolawe. Community organizing of neighbor-to-neighbor response after floods ravaged my home community on Kauaʻi in 2018. Economic loss of our children. Being pushed off the coast. Stoic state militia lines readying behind sunglasses to arrest protesting relatives. Real estate . . . Resilience.
“Many would say that this struggle has been going on for a long time, but we feel like a baby, in diapers.”
We are not American.
We survive because of other survivors.
We know that cultivating the land is security,
that water is life.
We laugh in the darkness
and put our children to work.
We are not going back,
we are living into a rooted future.
We rise . . . like a mighty wave.
Mehana Blaich Vaughan
MEHANA BLAICH VAUGHAN grew up where the moku (districts) of Halele‘a and Ko‘olau meet on the island of Kaua‘i. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Sea Grant College Program, and Hui ‘Āina Momona. Her home is on Kaua‘i with her husband, mother, and three children.
This essay has been produced as part of the 2020 FILM FOR THOUGHT Program in partnership with the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities.