Hawai‘i’s swirling, roiling flow of volcanic lava provides the anchor for this energetic, visually and sonically bold cinematic essay by experimental filmmaker Fern Silva. Filled with astounding telescopic imagery and engaging digressions into philosophically related phenomena, ROCK BOTTOM RISER breaks temporal and generic boundaries, touching upon everything from astronomy to geology to ethnography, from the origins of the universe to colonialism’s remapping of our planet (Kū Kiaʻi Mauna is a touchstone).
Less palimpsest and more like an ultimate cinematic mixtape, Silva crafts a tight and efficient essay documentary that can be majestic (sound bites by Nainoa Thompson are interspersed with Hokulea navigation maps), to the absurd (a New Age teacher discusses the philosophical merits of Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” to a couple of vaping tokers making impressive smoke rings as they hotbox in their car). Silva erupts all notions of what one might expect from “nature documentary” filmmaking, and shows viewers familiar worlds made alien. It is a psychedelic ode to Hawai‘i and its people, the kanaka maoli.