THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND is about more than just climate change. Briar March focuses on the impact that the rising waters has on the population of the island of Taku, and the hard choices they are forced to make when the encroaching water makes life increasingly difficult. When we spoke on March 9, 2012 at the 30th Annual San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival, I started with the way she emphasized what the cultural impact of leaving their home would mean to the islanders, an issue that rarely enters the conversations about climate change. From there we talked about why the government of Papua New Guinea is unable to do more to help the Taku stay where they are, the straws that climate change deniers clutch in order to make their case, and the very universal reactions the Taku have when making the decision to stay or go. The most moving part of the interview for me was when March described being at what I called “ground zero” for climate change when she was caught in a high tide that swept through the village, taking with it homes and the village’s only school.
With a population of less than 1000, and a strong sense of Polynesian cultural identity, there is resistance to moving, even as the waters close in on them. March tells the story from the islanders viewpoint, eschewing the usual statistical facts and figures to make this a story that is about consequences instead of causes.