Thursday, November 20, 2008

At last! Finishing Funds!

With joy (and great relief), I am happy to announce that The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas has received a $50,000 completion award from Pacific Islanders in Communications. PIC has been a long-time supporter of this project, providing Horse Opera with vital production funding back in 2003. With this new award, PIC is once again enabling us to move ahead, this time bringing the film to a fine-cut stage and preparing us to – finally – launch The Insular Empire out into the world. 

We are still looking for that last piece of funding, to pay for all the technical necessities you need to put a film on national PBS, and to pay for the film's distribution and outreach. (If you want to help us get there, please visit our site at to make a tax-deductible donation.) But the light is now shining brightly at the end of the tunnel, and I am 100% confident that The Insular Empire will be completed in 2009. Si Yu'us Maase and Olomwaay to PIC, and to all of you who have made this impossible dream a reality!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Julian Aguon Turns Up the Heat on the UN

Julian Aguon of Guam recently gave an impassioned speech before the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, imploring the UN to do something about the impending US military buildup on Guam. If the Forum doesn't pay attention to THIS, every one of us is in trouble...

Julian's riveting speech can also be viewed at the Peace and Justice for Guam blog.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Finally: A (Non-Voting) Delegate for the CNMI!

On Thursday, May 8, President George W. Bush signed into law Senate bill S.2739, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. It's ironic - if no longer a surprise to those of us familiar with the way the United States treats its offshore territories - that a bill on "natural resources" contained legislation addressing immigration and representation for the people of the Northern Marianas - who until now have been able to control their own immigration laws, but who have had no voice at all in the US Congress.

Tucked into this omnibus bill - which designates and expands wilderness areas and national parks, funds some water projects, and modifies two existing energy programs - are provisions federalizing the CNMI's immigration laws, and creating a non-voting delegate from the CNMI to the US House of Representatives. (Makes sense, right? Parks... energy... immigration? Anyone?)

Pete A. Tenorio, who is featured in
The Insular Empire, has served as the CNMI's Resident Representative to the US (a position with no real power within the US federal system - and one that, with the passing of S.2739, is now obsolete) since 2002. He is now deciding whether or not to throw his hat in the ring for the new Delegate spot.

"Too many people are saying that my support for the immigration portion of this law was a trade-off for the delegate seat,” said Tenorio in
a recent interview with Marianas Variety. “The choice before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and myself was to apply federal immigration laws with or without a delegate — either way federalization of immigration was going to happen.” Given the current Democratic Congress, the long-standing stink over labor abuses in the Northern Marianas' garment industry -- championed by Democratic congressman George Miller -- and the subsequent Jack Abramoff scandal, I would tend to believe him. 

Pete's been trying to get the CNMI a delegate since he set foot in Washington six years ago. And who can blame him? It's a no-brainer that the US citizens of the CNMI should at least have the same (marginal, non-voting) representation that the other unincorporated US territories have. When we spent time filming Pete in DC back in 2004, he was lobbying hard for it - but back then he had the support of some top-ranking (and mighty shady) Republicans, like Richard Pombo. Ironically, it took a Democratic congress to pass the legislation that Pombo was helping Pete to champion four years ago. Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows.

But what about the other part of this bill -- federal control of immigration? On the one hand, it cleans up a messy situation, in which the US citizens of the CNMI have become outnumbered by foreign "guest workers" -- workers who had few rights within the CNMI and who were often subjected to labor abuses by factory owners (who themselves were often non-residents, mostly from Asia). But on the other hand, applying US immigration to the tiny islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota is like having surgery done by a surgeon located 9000 miles away from the operating table, using a remote-control chainsaw. After looking at what has happened to the local indigenous people of Guam -- where they are also outnumbered in their homeland, but have absolutely no recourse to change the situation --  I for one am very worried about how this law may adversely affect the indigenous culture of the Marianas as a whole. My distinct impression (despite what people from Guam have to say on the matter), is that the NMI has become the cradle of Chamorro culture -- and, in particular, the Chamorro language. It is also the homeland of the Refalawasch people -- who share ties with the Caroline Islands, but who for many generations have called the Northern Marianas home. It seems to me that the last barrier between the preservation of this homeland, and its total absorption into the homogenized, anglo-centric, consumerist, individualistic American empire, is Article XII of the CNMI constitution, which comes up for a vote in a few years.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Guam's Women Leaders Say No to U.S. Military Build-Up

By 2014, the United States plans to spend $10 billion to move 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. This move will more than triple the military's already massive presence on the small island of Guam (population 172,000), flooding the island with an additional 40,000 people associated with the military build-up.

The decision to increase the U.S. military presence on Guam is being made without the consent of Guam's people. On August 13, 2007, a group of Guam's maga'haga* - or women leaders - met with U.S. Congressional representatives to protest the buildup, and Eklectiyk Creative Media created Maga'haga, a short film documenting this meeting. Maga'haga illustrates the unwavering strength and determination of the island's women to preserve their island home, and to make their voices heard.

Maga'haga (the film) can be viewed on youtube in two parts:
*In Ancient times, "maga'haga" were the eldest daughters of a clan, who shared the responsibilities of running the clan's affairs and governing its resources with the "maga'lahi," or the eldest sons. Today, the term refers to a strong female leader.

Welcome note from the Director

Welcome to Horse Opera's spanky new blog for The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas. In the weeks and months ahead, I will be posting updates and information here regarding the film's progress.

Currently The Insular Empire is at a rough cut stage -- meaning the basic structure is in place, but there's still a lot of work to do. The rough cut is 78 minutes long, and the final film festival version will probably be about 75 minutes. But to get on PBS, it has to fit in a 56:46 window -- which means I somehow now need to hack out 22 minutes. 

To get the film done, out to festivals and on the air (and into the hands of community organizers like Famoksaiyan), there's still a lot of work to be done. And the first task is to raise money. Six proposals are currently in the hands of funders, and more are being written. And of course, I'm continuing to accept donations from everyday people like you, who are willing to lend a hand because you want this story to be told.

Once the financing is in place, next steps include:
  • More editing. Bringing the festival version to a fine cut - and hacking out 22 minutes for the PBS version.
  • Animation and graphics. I am desperate to find a good animator here in Vancouver. (Send me your recommendations! I'll be posting a job description here shortly.)
  • Music. The amazing Todd Boekelheide will start on the film's score as soon as financing is secured.
  • Archival. The Insular Empire is FULL of fantastic archival... all of which needs to be procured in original format and cleared for distribution.
  • Sound mix, online, color correction, and a lot of other technical hoo-ha that broadcasters require.
  • Distribution strategy. How can we get the most people to see this film??
Wanna help make it happen? It's easy! Just click here and follow the easy instructions to make a donation. No amount is too big or too small! And if you can't afford to send money our way... send us your emotional support. This has been a long, hard, labor of love -- and your good wishes mean a lot to me.

Please feel free to share your comments and add your voice to this blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

- Vanessa