Pacific climate change film wins Leipzig revolution prize

By Stephen Brown
October 29, 2010

A film charting the dilemmas facing a community of 400 people on a Pacific atoll threatened by rising sea levels, due to climate change, has clinched a prize to commemorate East Germany's 1989 "peaceful revolution".

The New Zealand film, "There Once Was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho", is the first production to receive the "Leipzig Ring" prize awarded by the Peaceful Revolution Foundation, during the 53rd International Leipzig Festival for Documentaries and Animation Films.

"The film took four years to make. A lot of that time I was struggling to find funding for it. Many people thought I was crazy," producer Briar March said after being presented with the award in a 23 October 2010 ceremony at Leipzig's Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas' Church).

The church was the scene of peace prayers that in 1989 preceded mass protests calling for democracy in communist-ruled East Germany.

"The people of Leipzig have shown the world that societies and systems can be changed non-violently through civil courage," said Rainer Vor, the chairperson of the Peaceful Revolution Foundation, founded in 2009 to promote the non-violent values of the protests.

Its film prize is for a documentary that portrays civic engagement for democracy and human rights or where the producer has demonstrated personal commitment or great personal courage in making the film.

"There Once was an Island" follows the Polynesian community of Takuu, a string of islets on a reef around a central lagoon in the south western Pacific. People live on the islet called Nukutoa.

Takuu is located about 250 kilometres northeast of Bougainville and part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville which is in turn part of Papua New Guinea.

As a tidal flood rips through the atoll, the island community faces the choice of whether to move to an uncertain future in Bougainville or to stay on Takuu and fight for a different, but equally uncertain, outcome.

Explaining the difficulties she faced making the film, March recounted that there were only four boats a year to the island and they do not follow a regular timetable. The island has no mains electricity. "I want to thank the Takuu community," she said. "They are the ones who made this film possible."

The jury praised the way the film portrays the islanders' calm, composure and determination in responding to the threats facing the island. It said it helps those seeing the film in places such as Germany to see "that our lifestyle and the resulting climate change is a reason why the island faces such threats".

The award is a sculpture in the shape of the Leipzig inner city ring road where the pro-democracy demonstrators marched in 1989, and a cash prize of 5000 euros.

Ten films were shortlisted for the award, dealing with themes such as the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008, civic rights activists of East Germany during the transition to democracy, an environmental cover-up in Kyrgyzstan, and Iran's political protests of 2009.

• Film website: www.thereoncewasanisland.com

• Peaceful Revolution Foundation website (in German): www.stiftung-fr.de

ENInews' managing editor Stephen Brown is a member of the World Association for Christian Communication's Europe steering committee, one of the contributors to the prize.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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