Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Need of a Good Graphic Designer

Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to speak at length with Suzanne Romaine, a seasoned PBS station relations professional at KQED in San Francisco. She gave me all sorts of tips on how to get The Insular Empire broadcast on as many PBS stations as possible. One of the many pearls of wisdom that fell from her mouth: "Get your program announcement out to stations on January 5th."

Hello good advice – goodbye Christmas vacation!

As a former graphic designer, I know that a good program announcement needs to convey the graphic identity of the film. So this afternoon, over turkey leftovers and a big glass of hot chocolate, I sat down to try to come up with a 'look' for The Insular Empire. The good news is, I now know what I want. The bad news is, I can't do it myself.

Yes, I did say that I used to be a graphic designer... but that was about ten years and eight versions of Photoshop ago. So, I'm looking for someone who is a (current) master at Photoshop who can help me. This week.

Here's the mockup I've come up with:

If anyone out there knows of a good graphic designer who is available to help me implement this properly, THIS WEEK, please let me know! Thanks.

Military to Guam: Now that we've taken all your public land... just go bowling!

The Marianas Variety recently published an article about recommendations included in the Guam military buildup Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), in which the military is recommending that the local people take up indoor activities once all their public land has been taken away.

I'm serious. I couldn't make something like that up. Check it out for yourself. There are so many things wrong with this I don't even know where to begin.

My mother (a retired city planner) says that if an EIS includes 'mitigation' activities it is more likely to get passed - which is probably why they stuck this provision in. But she also says that Guam needs to give the EIS back to the military, saying that there are all kinds of problems with it and that they need more time to assess it. If anyone out there wants to pick her experienced city planner brain on the specifics of this, just send me an email.

Monday, December 14, 2009

David Letterman skit on Guam

This skit basically sums up what most Americans know about the Marianas. Maybe I should send a copy of The Insular Empire to David Letterman?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Guam to be featured on NOW/PBS - THIS FRIDAY -Dec. 11

This Friday, December 11th, at 8:30pm, Now on PBS will debut an episode about the planned military buildup of Guam. (PBS stations program their shows independently, so be sure to check with your local stations for exact times and dates.) It focuses on the military's plans to bring 79,000 new residents into Guam by 2014 as part of their $15 billion militarization of the Marianas. I know the producers of this show interviewed Hope Cristobal (and many others involved in Guam's response to the buildup), and I can't wait to see it!

The show can also be viewed on the web after 8:30pm EST on Dec 11th, at

Monday, December 7, 2009

Japan to Propose Adding Environmental Regulations to US Bases Treaty

Until reading this recent article in Japan's Mainichi Daily News, I was unaware that US military bases in Japan are not subject to any environmental regulation. I've become familiar enough with how the US military conducts business in US territories that this didn't entirely surprise me -- but how could a first-world, industrialized, independent country like Japan allow unmitigated environmental contamination on its own soil by the US military?

Part of the answer may lie in the simple fact that the US/Japan Status-of-Forces agreement was signed in 1960, based on the Japan-U.S. treaty of mutual cooperation and security - back when environmental regulations weren't top of mind. (And far from being popular with the Japanese, the treaty was, in fact, violently opposed by many in the Japanese Diet; mass opposition riots even led to the resignation of Japan's Prime Minister, Nobusuke Kishi. The treaty only passed by default, when Japan's House of Councillors failed to vote on the issue in time.)

As to why no one has bothered to amend this agreement in the intervening fifty years and add in some environmental protections - that answer may lie in the simple fact that the vast majority of US military bases in Japan are located in Okinawa. While Okinawa has been a part of Japan since 1879, and is represented in the Japanese legislature, the Okinawan people have a distinct language and culture from the rest of Japan. Many Okinawans feel that they have been colonized -- both by Japan and, with Japan's blessing, by the US military. Okinawa was, in fact, under US administration for 27 years -- from 1945 until 1972 -- meaning that, technically, all those Okinawa bases weren't part of Japan when the Status-of-Forces agreement was signed in 1960. And the Okinawans have, until recently, held little political power in Tokyo.

The good news is that the new Japanese government is finally paying attention to the Okinawans. And getting the US military to take responsibility for the environment it operates in is one of the bargaining chips being put on the table. The question now is, will Washington pay any attention?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Interesting Marianas Blog

This one is in the CNMI:

I particularly like her editorial at the bottom of this post about the dire state of affairs in Saipan, and who is to blame. While I do agree in part with the commentator (and it would be nice to know who this person is), that Saipan's current mess is in part their own doing, I also believe that the islands still have a lot going for them. And I believe that while their leadership may have succumbed to individual greed and/or malfeasance, the problem is much bigger and deeper rooted -- and until people understand these underlying issues, the same problems are likely to persist.

Good leadership, under the best of circumstances, is hard to come by. When you've been someone else's colonial subject for generations, when you come from a culture that thinks about power and wealth and reciprocity in a radically different way than the culture of the colonizing countries, and when you've got the world's biggest military power breathing down your neck... well, let's just say true leadership isn't likely to flourish. Not impossible, but not likely. Ghandi's are few and far between.

But I also believe that the islands have everything they need to turn things around for themselves. I've been impressed with the new generation of local activists rising in response to the military buildup on Guam. And the northern Marianas holds a wealth of cultural knowledge that they can share with their cousins on Guam - a wealth of knowledge to help restore faith in themselves as a unique and important people.  The Mariana Islands and their people are resilient - they just need to believe in their own power. And -- and this is probably the hardest part -- they need to come together and put aside petty differences and old hurts. Progress will come when the people recognize that they need to be the ones to help their islands, because no one else is ever going to do it for them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Drowning Mermaid: Honk if You Hear Me!

The Drowning Mermaid: Honk if You Hear Me!

I just discovered a wonderful Guam blog by Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura -- a truly gifted and accomplished writer, with a passion for her tiny island that is heart-warming and inspiring. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

H.R. 3940 - Education for Self-Government on Guam

A few weeks ago I posted this article on Congresswoman Bordallo's efforts to get some education for self-government funding for the people of Guam. I'm delighted to report that her efforts - with the support of virtually every Chamoru rights group on Guam - have paid off, in the form of H.R. 3940.

The bill evidently made its way out of the House Committee on Natural Resources by unanimous consent. According to Congresswoman Bordallo, "The full committee’s approval of H.R. 3940 signals that political status education for non-self-governing territories is a priority for the committee that has jurisdiction over the territories."

More information on H.R. 3940, including joint testimony in support of the legislations, can be found here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

So far as the Obama Administration is concerned, “Change” doesn’t apply to Okinawa.

Douglas Lummis (a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy) recently published this excellent article on the proposed military realignment in Okinawa and Guam. Many of us have been wondering - with an increasingly sinking feeling - what, if anything, Obama will do to 'change' what is to the Okinawans an untenable situation. It looks from Lummis' article like the answer is "not much."

Yes We Can (But We Won't): Obama, Hatoyama and Okinawa

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GHC Comes to Vancouver

I finally had the pleasure today of meeting Kimberlee Kihleng -- Executive Director of the Guam Humanities Council. We've actually been working together for over four years now, but since I haven't been back to Guam in all that time, Kimberlee finally came to Vancouver to see me. (Actually, she came here to see her sister, who runs the Vancouver Art Gallery. But she was nice enough to invite me out for tea.) :)

One of the things we discussed was bringing The Insular Empire to Guam for a premiere screening in the spring, as part of the GHC's NEH-funded civic engagement program around the impending military buildup. According to Kimberlee, "the purpose of the project is to allow Guam residents at the community level the opportunity to discuss the impending expansion and its implications in a meaningful, non-confrontational way through the use of "texts", i.e., poems, excerpts from short stories and essays, and film. With the project, we want to provide a space to encourage residents to talk with each other openly and reflectively about the buildup so they can be better informed and more civically engaged."

(Now of course, IMHO, giving the good folks of Guam a vote in Congress, or at least giving them some say in how, when, and if the buildup occurs, would be a better idea... but the NEH doesn't fund that sort of thing. So I guess you have to just take what you can get.)

The GHC is planning on screening The Insular Empire as a part of this project, and they are inviting me and some of the film's participants to Guam to speak with audiences there. I really am honored to be included in this project, and I can't wait to finally bring the film back to Guam!

Friday, November 6, 2009

US Base Feud Hits Nerve Ahead of Obama Visit

Check out this recent Reuters Article on the Okinawa-Guam base realignment.

For those of us interested in the US military buildup on Guam, it's interesting to see how the planned realignment affects larger geopolitical affairs. Come to think of it, Guam has been a lynchpin in large geopolitical affairs for centuries... and STILL it gets only the tiniest mention. (one word, actually, in the Reuters article). Of course the article doesn't say much about Okinawa, either...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New PBS Trailer

We've cut a spanky new trailer for PBS... check it out!

Bordallo Asks Congress to Fund Guam Self-Government Education

The Overseas Territories Review blog recently posted this article on a bill by Guam's non-voting US Congressional Delegate Madeleine Bordallo. The bill would "authorize the Secretary of the Interior to extend grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program on Guam."

O-kay... sounds like a good idea (if a hundred years late)... but my first question is: why now? Ms. Bordallo has been in Congress for a long time, and Guam has needed an education for self-government program since, well, since 1898. Why is the good Congresswoman putting this on the table now?

Hope Cristobal (Sr.) has a possible explanation:

"This could be very likely part of the "unified Guam" campaign to keep the restless natives calmed before the military bases expansion begins in 2010..."

Aha. Bordallo has always been very pro-military. But still -- maybe this is a good thing? Guam could sure use a political education program. How much does one cost, anyway?

"I believe the Congresswoman is asking for an allotment of about $300,000, not much compared to what Guam spent for the Guam draft commonwealth act that was turned down by Congress Oct 1997."

Monday, November 2, 2009

PBS National Broadcast - At Last!

Some good news to report: last week, NETA agreed to pick up The Insular Empire for a national PBS feed. What this means is that sometime in January or (more likely) February, 2010, The Insular Empire will go out on NETA's satellite feed to most of the PBS stations in the American Public TV system.

However - and this is where you, dear reader, fit in - it's up to the individual stations whether or not they choose to grab the show and air it. So if we want this film to have a truly national broadcast, it's going to be up to us to make sure it happens - by letting our PBS stations know that we want to see The Insular Empire on Public TV. As soon as I have a feed date from NETA, I will be posting a letter here that you can print out and send directly to your PBS stations, telling them about the show and urging them to air it.

So stay tuned for more info to come...

Thanks, Si Yu'us maase, and Olomwaay for your continued support!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Interesting new website

Hope Cristobal (Sr.) just alerted me to a great new website about the US military and its relationship to the Marianas:

Check it out!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's done!!

Next month it will be exactly eight years since I started this project... and yesterday (on my birthday, no less) I officially finished the festival version of The Insular Empire. (The PBS version, unfortunately, had some problems with the closed captioning, which will be fixed next week.)

The last few weeks have been a blur, but somehow it's all come together... with help from Force Four's amazing post supervisor Jackie Sidoni and online editor Mike Addison, and the amazing Sound Mixtress Erica Chard Landrock (who went way above & beyond last week, sliding in some last minute music for the end credits). And speaking of music... Cinta and Gus Kaipat found the PERFECT song, by JJ Concepcion, called Marianas Faluwei (thanks Guys!). We were having a hard time getting our hands on a high-quality copy of the song... but it turns out that JJ lives practically around the corner from my in-laws down in Washington, where I was at a family reunion last week -- so we just drove by and picked up a CD. (And we got to meet JJ and his lovely family in the process.) Small world!

So now... what's next? Finishing the film is like having a baby... the end of one long process, and the beginning of another. Now that the film is done, I need to make sure it has a long and happy life out in the world. Getting the film into some festivals and onto PBS is currently top priority. Plus developing a graphic identity for the film, and putting together a DVD (Hooray! Finally a chance to use all those fabulous clips that didn't fit into the film!), and then figuring out how to distribute the film to educational and home video markets.

But for now - starting tomorrow - I'm gonna go on a much-needed vacation. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ISO: Chamorro end credits music

I'm in the online edit now, finishing The Insular Empire with rock star editor/After Effects wizard Mike Addison at Force Four here in Vancouver. But we've run into a snag: my fearless team in the CNMI hasn't been able to track down the rights to the song we'd been planning to run over the end credits of the 58 minute (festival/educational) version.

So... now, in the 11th hour, we’re looking for a new song for the end credits. It has to be sung in Chamorro, and ideally it should be about the Marianas as homeland.

If anyone out there can suggest a song, please email me – and please attach the song (or a link to the song) so I can hear it. And if you know who has the rights to it, please let me know that as well.

Si Yu’us maase!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More fallen soldiers from Guam and CNMI

I've identified three more soldiers killed in the US "war on terror". That brings the total from the Marianas to 26.

Iosiwo Uruo
Derence Jack
JayGee Ngirmidol Meluat

Please notify me ASAP if you know of any others! Thank you.

News from Indian Country - and More Fallen Heroes

Hope Cristobal just pointed me to one of the best articles I have read in a long time about Guam and the US military buildup happening there. Published on a news site called News from Indian Country, and written by journalist Beau Hodai, who has worked for both the Pacific Daily News and the Marianas Variety, the article documents the self-censorship of Guam's corporate-controlled media.

It also documents the heavy burden the Marianas are carrying in America's wars overseas. I'm not convinced that Hodai's numbers are accurate, but according to Hodai, the Marianas now have lost 46 soldiers, giving "Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, with a population of under 300,000, the dubious honor of being the region of the United States with the highest number per capita of such casualties."

I am collecting the names and photos of these fallen soldiers for the film. So far, I have photos of the following 23 soldiers:

Christopher Fernandez
Jose Charfauros, Jr.
Adam Quitugua Emul
Christopher Jude Rivera Wesley
Eddie Chen
Gregory D. Fejeran
John D. Flores
Jesse Castro
Jonathan Pangelinan Santos
Kasper Allen Camacho Dudkiewicz
Leeroy Camacho
Michael Vega
Richard D. Naputi, Jr.
Henry Hank Ofeciar
Victor Fontanilla
Wilgene Lieto
Ferdinand Ibabao
Brian Leon Guerrero
Samson Mora
Tony Carbullido
Christopher Quitugua
Joseph D. Gamboa
Anamarie San Nicolas Camacho

If you are aware of anyone not on this list who should be, please email me [] immediately. We are locking picture in less than a week!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Double Your Donation - and More Good News

I'm pleased to announce that an anonymous donor has pledged up to $2,000 in matching funds... meaning that right now every dollar you donate to The Insular Empire will automatically be doubled. Yes - doubled! Already we've received a $250 contribution -- meaning there are still $1,750 in matching funds available. So if you've been thinking about donating, but thought you couldn't afford it -- well, now you can just lower the amount to whatever you can afford, and send that in, and it'll automatically  be doubled to something even better. Think of it as a 50% discount!

I'm also pleased to announce that after a nine-hour marathon recording session yesterday, with sound goddess Erica Chard Landrock at the controls and the mellifluous voice of Lesley Ewen on the microphone, all of the narration for the film has been recorded. Professionally. By someone who is WAY more qualified than I am. :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Things You Learn on Twitter

I finally decided to devote some time to learning how to use Twitter. (Yes, it's a procrastination tactic - God knows I've got plenty to do - but also, in theory, it's a way to find a bigger audience for The Insular Empire, out there in TwitterLand.) And look what I found: a news report from The Onion about how the recession is forcing the US to 'dip into Guam'.

Do the folks at The Onion know that that's not actually a joke? I mean, how much $$ would the US have to pay for all that military land they're holding, if they were to compensate Guam's rightful land-owners? And what about the millions of $$ that the courts have demanded from Guam because of the landfill debacle? Sounds like a good money-making venture to me...

The good news is there are a bunch of people out there tweeting about Guam and the CNMI. Which is cool. But (not surprisingly) a search for "Marianas" just calls up a bunch of tweets about the Marianas Trench -- a pop-punk band from, of all places, Vancouver. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Guam is Crying

There's a really powerful short documentary up on YouTube, made by Chamoru filmmaker Alex Munoz. Check it out!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Guamology Interview

Kel Muna of the cool new website Guamology just published an interview with me, about my motivations for making The Insular Empire and what it's like to be a documentary filmmaker. It's an odd feeling, to be on the other side of the camera (so to speak). But he did kinda make me look good. :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

California Update (#3)

I think it's safe to say that last night's screening was an unqualified success. We had a great turnout, and everyone seemed genuinely moved and pleased with the film. We raised $500, and several people offered to throw house parties to help raise more money to help get the film finished. I also got to catch up with Hope Cristobal, Jr., and Amy Robinson, and a bunch of other friends and family I hadn't seen in a long time.

I also succeeded in shooting photos for Kunal, the film's animator. I took photos of Ben Servino, his daughter Emily, Martha Duenas, and an unsuspecting but gracious Frank Flores (who didn't know until he got there that he'd been volunteered as a model).

Today I'll finish up working with Todd and Gus on the music -- and then take some much needed time off...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

California Update (#2) - Parking

For those of you coming to the screening on Wednesday -- please park in Lot B on the CSU Hayward campus, right across from the screening venue (Old University Union, Room #102). Ben Servino has gotten us free access to this lot from 4-8pm. 

See my post below for maps and directions to the screening.

As we gear up for tomorrow, all is going well. Todd (and Alex, his assistant) and I finished up our spotting session this morning, and I'm even more excited to hear what they come up with. Gus will join us tomorrow to infuse the score with some local flavor...

Friday, May 8, 2009

California Update (#1)

After three days on the road, we made it safely to Quincy, CA, where the weather is GORGEOUS... (man, I do miss the California sunshine!) We're going to soak up some sunshine, have a visit with my family, and then hit the road again on Sunday.

Ben Servino has found us a venue for the fundraiser screening, which will be held on Wednesday, May 13, 6-8pm, at the Cal State Hayward campus, Old University Union, Rm. #102. 

Gus Kaipat, who will be in California helping me with the film's score, has graciously agreed to perform before the screening. (Thanks, Gus!)


Driving directions to the CSUEB campus are here.


Here is the link for the campus map.

And here is the facebook page for the event.

And lastly, after much discussion and consultation (and many thanks to all of you who participated in my surveys)... I've decided to stick with the original title of The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas. No, it's not perfect -- but it seems to be closer to perfect than anything else we were all able to come up with!


Saturday, May 2, 2009

California, Here I Come...

We're packing up and getting ready to head south! After almost 8 years of planning, shooting, editing (and re-editing and re-editing), we are LOCKING PICTURE on Monday, putting the files on my laptop, and driving it down to California. Yeeha!

A zillion details still to sort out, but the film at least is finally solid, and I'm feeling really good about it. I showed it to my TV-director friend Mona last week and she said, "wow, it's really good... and definitely one of the best docs I've seen made by someone I know!" (Since she went to USC film school and worked in LA for years, this does actually mean something.) 

We're driving down to SF in Nik's trusty VW Westphalia, aka Verne the Van, and stopping along the way to visit family in Seattle and in Quincy, CA. We'll be in the Bay Area by next Monday, where I'm going to be working with Todd Boekelheide (Academy-award winning sound designer and composer) and Gus Kaipat (recording artist and ukulele player from Saipan) on the film's musical score. With the help of Martha Duenas and Hopie Cristobal I'm also going to be setting up a still photo shoot, to get photos of Chamorro faces for my animator Kunal Sen to use in the animations... AND it looks like Ben Servino of Cal State East Bay is going to set up a fundraising screening for Wednesday, May 13th at the Hayward Campus. (So if any of you want a sneak peek at the film, and want to help get this thing DONE and on the air, come on out and show your love!) I will post more details on the screening once he's nailed down a time and venue.

It should be a very full and very productive week, and I'm really looking forward to it. But now... back to the grindstone. Lots to do before we leave...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One time in Madrid...

We spent many, many hours with Carlos Taitano -- but this is still one of my favorite Carlos moments:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Money, money, money

It seems that the closer I get to the finish line with this documentary, the more financial hurdles get thrown in my path. Who knew it would cost $2500 for 25 seconds of archival footage from Japan? And $3000 just for a lawyer to help me get E&O insurance? (Not to mention the $5000 for the insurance itself?)

Undaunted, I am soldiering on... but a small voice in the back of my head (along with the clearly audible voice of my husband) keeps asking, "Hey, how are you going to pay for all that?"

What I am saying, dear reader, is that we are not yet out of the woods. We need money to finish this film. So if you have even $5 or $10 to spare -- please donate. If you have more, so much the better (here at Horse Opera we are experts at stretching pennies, so even small donations can go a long way). 

Other ways you can help:
  • If you know of a funding source we should apply to, please let me know
  • Throw a fundraising party! It's fun, it'll make you really popular, AND it will help us out. Send me an email and I'll send you a DVD screener w/ info on how to collect donations. It's that easy!
  • Tell other people about the film and show them how to donate. Hey, it's tax deductible! It's good for the economy! It's good for the planet! And it's easy. 
Donating is good for your karma and will make you feel good all day. Plus helping us to finish this film will be really, really good for the people of the Marianas, who have been getting the shaft for a very, very long time.

Thank you for reading this, and for your support.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Adios, Tun Carlos

It is with real sorrow that I am blogging today about the passing of Carlos Pangelinan Taitano, who died last week at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 92. The Guam Pacific Daily News published this obituary for him -- but they've left off many details from his long and illustrious life. 

Many people don't know, for instance, that Carlos was a professional dancer during his high school and college years in Hawaii, or that he was one of the first Chamorros to receive a college degree (in, I believe, 1940 -- though that might be off by a year). He was one of the first (if not the first) Chamorros to become an attorney, and that distinction opened many doors for him back on Guam -- including becoming the official bottler for Coca-Cola throughout Micronesia. Carlos served as a legislator in the Guam Congress (in which he eventually served as Speaker of the House), and he led the congress in the now-famous Walkout of 1949, which led to the Organic Act of Guam. 

Later in life, Carlos returned to his passion for dance by researching the historic dances of Guam's original Tao Tao Tano people, reconstructing cultural practices that had been all but erased by five hundred years of colonization. This research forms the foundation of many of the dances now performed by Guam's Chamorro cultural organizations, such  as Pa'a Tao Tao Tano. Right up until his death, Carlos remained active -- speaking publicly about the need for change on Guam, and continuing his research on Chamorro and Austranesian culture and history.

I was lucky enough to have seen Carlos only three weeks before he died, while I was in Los Angeles for the preview screening of The Insular Empire. While he was too weak by that point to attend the screening, I am pleased to say that I was able to show the film to him in his hospital room, and that he seemed quite pleased with the way it portrayed him. I'm also pleased to report that -- even in the hospital, as weak as he was -- he seemed happy and alert, and not in any pain. He even asked for a pen and paper, so that he could take notes while watching!

The Insular Empire would not be the film it is with Carlos' support and participation. He was unfailingly generous with his time, and allowed us to interview him (twice, at length) as well as giving us complete access to his extensive personal archives. He was also gracious about letting us follow him around with a camera, on occasions too numerous to mention. His family, too, was open and helpful, and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well.

We are culling some of Carlos' finer interview segments from the many hours of footage we collected, and this weekend I will post some of that footage here. For now, I offer up my sincere condolences to his family, and a short prayer for Tun Carlos – may his spirit go in peace.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Hope Cristobal (Sr.) forwarded me an op-ed article today from the Japan Times, by Kiroku Hanai. The article outlines the current debate raging in Japan about the proposed base realignment which would result in relocating US marines, their families, and support personnel to Guam. 

Most of the local folks on Guam are pretty pissed off about this plan -- not having been involved in it, or asked their opinion about it, despite the fact that the buildup would severely and adversely impact their already over-burdened island. But it appears that the local folks on Okinawa are also pissed off. I met with a contingent from Okinawa at the Security Without Empire conference last month, and after watching The Insular Empire they came up and told me how similar the Marianas story was to their own... because evidently the planned military move doesn't actually remove the US military from Okinawa -- it merely moves one US base from one location (Futenma) to another (Nago) -- AS WELL as moving the marines to Guam. The proposed Nago site is also something of an environmental disaster: it would fill in almost 2 square kilometres of ocean, including habitat of the endangered 'dugong' sea mammal. (Think baby beluga meets manatee.) And the Japanese taxpayers are supposed to be footing 60% of the bill for all of this. 

Well, I can hear you all saying, isn't the New Age of Obama going to change all this? I would have liked to think so, but in fact Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton's first official overseas visit was to Japan, where -- as the Japan Times article points out -- she did her best to push through plans for the move, despite growing protest from Japan. (And Guam. And Okinawa. The Okinawans, in fact, have been holding a daily sit-in at the proposed Henoko site since 1997. That's twelve years. Every day. They even go out in kayaks and do sit-ins on the tower construction sites off-shore. They *really* don't want that base there.)

Kiroku Hanai writes: "Clinton's visit to Japan and the execution of the Guam transfer agreement can only be interpreted as an attempt by Washington to secure its vested rights to maintain military bases in Japan. If so, it will undoubtedly come as a big disappointment to those Japanese citizens of sound judgment who earnestly hoped that President Obama would depart from the belligerent policies of his predecessor."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PEER goes after Air Force for Guam Environmental Crimes

A recent post on reported on serious environmental infractions on Guam by the US Air Force. PEER -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- issued a "whistleblower disclosure" on the part of Nancy Mitton, Natural Resources Specialist at Guam's Andersen Air Force Base. Ms. Mitton has evidently been trying, for years, to draw attention to problems caused, or permitted, by the Air Force. Problems like rampant poaching, lack of protection of endangered species, paving beaches, and stripping vegetation from the habitats of nesting turtles. She finally gave up going through regular channels and took her grievances public.

I'm not in the least surprised that any of this is going on (her most common allegation is of 'abuse of authority'). But it struck me in reading her announcement that it is GREAT that Commondreams is paying attention to Guam's environment. 

Now how do we get them to start paying attention to Guam's people?

This isn't an entirely facetious question. For while Ms. Mitton's exclusive focus on the environment could -- from a local, Chamorro perspective -- be infuriating (she makes no distinction between the local 'poacher', who is probably hunting on his family's ancestral lands, and the Air Force officer who is blythely paving beaches), it also offers the opportunity for some much-needed publicity, and maybe even some useful coalition-building.

Here's the current situation: the military holds most of the power, the Chamorus have almost no international recognition, and their environment is in dire straits. Given this sorry state of affairs, my personal feeling is that it would be politically astute for local people to jump on the environmental bandwagon. Yes, the environmental protection laws are made by people who know nothing about Chamoru custom or culture. Yes, the people enforcing those laws are usually just as ignorant. But protecting the environment serves everyone's long-term interests -- especially the Chamorus', because when the military is long gone, the Chamorus will still be there. And if there aren't any turtle or fruitbats or coconut crabs left, it's going to hurt them more than anyone. 

So, as an interim first step, I think it would be smart for Chamoru Nasion et al to build a coalition with the environmental folks. What they lack in cultural understanding (and probably in understanding of the Treaty of Paris and other relevant political facts), they make up for in U.S. government clout AND scientific knowledge related to species survival. (And hey, the EPA is finally getting some teeth again under the new administration! Woohoo!) Plus, if the locals work WITH the environmentalists, and help them, it's an opportunity to educate them, and maybe even to get them on board to help further the cause of Chamoru self-determination. You never know. It sure beats having your beaches paved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Los Angeles - Screening #2, CSU Long Beach

After the UCLA event -- which I can now say was officially our last feedback screening -- I felt so DONE, and so pooped, that I did something really stupid. In the parking lot outside, I gave the last DVD copy of the film to my friend Kathy, who wanted to show it to some of her colleagues at the UCLA law school.

Now, I did this knowing that I'd lost the VGA adaptor for my laptop back in DC, and that without the DVD I basically had no way to show the film again until I got home. And a little voice in the back of my head said 'you know, it's really not a great idea to give away your last DVD like that'... but hey, I was done, right? So out of my bag it went, into her waiting hands. We said goodnight, and I went back to Hermosa Beach with my friend Lela, and she -- and the DVD -- went back to her house in Studio City. (For those of you who don't know LA -- these two places are in opposite directions from UCLA, about an hour apart.)

Then I woke up the next morning, and realized just how truly idiotic I had been. I had a large fundraising screening planned for Sunday. In 24 hours. And I now had no film to show.

Luckily, I was with the unflappable Lela, who spent the rest of the day letting me use her phone and driving me all over Los Angeles to retrieve the DVD. She even came with me to a Doculink party, which was really fun. (There were WAY more people than Vancouver's small and somewhat dysfunctional Doculink community ever gets together, and I even got to salsa dance with a persistent Latin sound guy whose name I didn't catch. And I finally met fellow doc filmmaker Jonathan Skurnik, in person -- who offered to lend me his VGA adaptor. Bless his heart.)

So by Sunday morning, I was set. Keith Camacho, Prof. of Asian American studies at UCLA, originally from Guam and a long-time advisor to this project, picked me up with his lovely partner Julianne and drove me down to Long Beach. We got there late, and people were already showing up -- groups of people, people with kids, teenagers, folks wearing Kutturan Chamoru t-shirts... I was the only haole in the room, and I started having a vague feeling that I had suddenly landed, just like that, back on Guam. 

Pita Taase, head of the CSULB Pacific Islanders Association, had some of his students there to help us, and we managed to get people fed and to start the film only about 1/2 an hour late. (Which is prompt, if you're on island time.) It was unfortunately a little hard to see the screen -- the room, which was otherwise perfect, had a big window at the back, and of course the LA sun was shining -- so I think the audience didn't get the best viewing experience... but overall, they really seemed to like it. 

There were a lot of questions afterwards -- but almost always prefaced by a thank you. One guy expressed how deeply validating it was to see his people up on the big screen. And after the Q&A, people kept coming up to me with money, stuffing it into the envelope Pita had provided for donations, and telling me how much they enjoyed the film. 

Pita was great, and I owe him and his students (seen here eating Nachos) a deep debt of gratitude for their help. I have to give a special shout-out to Keith, too. He introduced the film (AND supplied most of the food, AND drove me all over LA, AND fed me dinner), and he helped to start off the Q&A afterwards, with some incisive and thought-provoking comments. I met Keith back when he was a grad student, seven years ago when I was just beginning this film -- and it was fun and deeply satisfying to see him, now an esteemed professor, leading a discussion (with some serious authority -- that man can SPEAK) about a film that is now, basically, done. 

With about 40 people in the audience, we ended up raising almost $700, which was more than I had hoped for -- and enough to pay for the cost of my trips to DC and LA. I got some very valuable feedback, saw some old friends (like my dear friends Kathy and Jonathan, who also housed and fed me and schlepped me all over LA), and most importantly I made new connections with people that are interested in seeing this film get out into the world. Now that I'm back home again, it's time to hunker down and finish the home stretch!

Los Angeles - Screening #1, UCLA

I'm late in posting to the blog these days... the last two weeks have been something of a blur -- first a sun-soaked week in LA, and then a week of catching up (and SLEEPING) here in Vancouver. My apologies to those of you who have been wondering what I've been up to...

But LA was, I think, an unqualified success. Our first screening, at UCLA, was organized by a Hawaiian UCLA grad student named Pua Warren, and was intended to garner feedback on the film from people who knew nothing about the Marianas. (Which is, of course, our principal target audience.) 

We didn't get as many filmmakers as I would have liked -- but we had about 20 people, which was what I had hoped for. About half were either Pacific Islander or 'other indigenous,' but only four people had more than a little knowledge of the film's subject, and overall, everyone seemed to like it a lot. No one could find any places that felt boring or slow, and everyone was able to follow the story -- even one woman who had come in late and missed the opening. My friend (and music editor extraordinaire) Vordo gamely gave us some very thorough and well-articulated feedback from a white male mainlander perspective (despite being the only white male in the room), which I think will prove useful to us in the final edit. AND he liked my music choices for the soundtrack! :)

The jury is still out, though, on the title. A few people loved it. A few people thought it was too oblique. One person simply put 'meh' on her questionnaire. But no one recommended an alternative. So if anyone out there has any ideas for a better title, please comment!!

Next up, a report on the CSU Long Beach screening...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To See the President (Sort of) – Part II of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I’m staying in DC with my good friends Rob and Elisa, whose hospitality never ceases to amaze me. I met them years ago in Guatemala, when I needed an emergency root canal. They took me in and gave me a place to stay, and we’ve been friends ever since. This time, they’ve put me up in their lovely basement guest room in Northwest DC, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

I ended the conference over a delicious French dinner with Lisa and a lovely woman named Lotus, an activist from Berkeley – but I woke up the next morning to four inches of snow and a case of the flu. Rob and Elisa’s kids went sledding, while I sipped hot tea and went back to bed. Tuesday I wasn’t feeling much better, but I managed to get myself out of the house in order to get some paperwork signed at the Department of the Interior.

To get there, I took a city bus that dropped me off near the White House. I was delighted to see that the barricades erected during the Bush/Cheney years are now gone, and the White House is once again visible from the street. There were even some people protesting in front of the gate, without police harassment, including a very effective group dressed as prisoners from Guantamo Bay.

As I made my way closer to the Department of the Interior, I began to notice more and more police cars on the street, then cars from Homeland Security and Federal Protective Services.
Men in suits with curly wires in their ears stood in clumps around the building. The security around the building was a lot tighter than it appeared at the White House! When I got up to the entrance, I was told it was closed, and that I’d have to retrace my steps two blocks to the back entrance. Turns out, I’d picked March 3rd to run my errand – the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior – and President Obama had decided at the last minute to come and make a speech at the anniversary celebrations. Go figure.

I retraced my steps to the back entrance, dropped off my paperwork (the guy I wanted to have sign it was busy waiting for the President), then I waited in the icy cold hoping to spot President Obama as he walked in. After half an hour I finally gave up and hailed a cab – but no sooner had I closed the cab door than the sirens started and traffic stopped, and a few minutes later the motorcade passed in front of us. I grabbed my camera, and this is all I was able to see:

But I’ve zoomed in on this photo, and I think I see the President’s silhouette in the window. I swear he’s looking right at me, and smiling.

Once the motorcade passed, the cab took me to the National Museum of the American Indian, where I met an old friend for lunch. The Museum is a treasure, and worth a visit if only for a delicious meal served in its magnificent cafeteria – all of the food indigenous, and organized by tribal region. (They didn't, of course, have any Chamorro food. Maybe someone should suggest it. How cool would that be, to get chicken kelaguen on the Mall?!) I only had an hour and a half to spend visiting the museum itself, which was nowhere near enough time to take in all the stories, exhibits, films, artifacts… but enough to know I need to go back again.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Security Without Empire: Part I of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I came to DC to meet a woman named Lisa Natividad. She teaches social work at the University of Guam, and is one of the key people right now working for Chamorro self-determination. 

I met up with her at American University, where AFSC and the Institute for Policy Studies has put on a conference called Security Without Empire. The conference is intended to coordinate the efforts of various groups that are trying to reduce (or eliminate) the number of US overseas military bases. There are delegates here from as far away as Hawaii and Okinawa, Puerto Rico and the Middle East, representing people from all corners of the globe. They share a common vision of peace, and of freedom from US military presence in their lands.

Lisa turns out to be lovely, articulate, and smart. It was worth the trip just to meet her. After some less-than-ideal scheduling snafus, we managed to screen the film twice, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Several people (Lisa included) were even moved to tears. (Definitely an odd feeling, as a filmmaker: satisfaction in making people cry.) The delegation from Okinawa descended on me afterwards to ask how they could bring the film to Okinawa this summer. I’ve also met a lot of people interested in showing the film to their various constituencies – from Puerto Rico to New Orleans to Honolulu – and made contacts that I hope will help with the film’s outreach once it’s done.

At the end of the conference, American University host professor David Vine led us all to a closing ceremony at the far edge of the AU campus, at a small clearing next to an ugly construction site. I was beginning to question his sense of spatial aesthetics (why were we having a closing ceremony between a construction site and the bus depot?) when he began explaining that the clearing was actually a toxic military clean-up site. 

Evidently, AU stored chemical weapons for the US military back in World War I – and during the mid-90s, construction crews unearthed unexploded chemical ordnance. A clean-up was conducted – but ten years later, more unexploded ordnance were again discovered. The site next to us was the latest effort at removing the toxins, left there almost 100 years before.

The ceremony ended with Lisa pouring a bowl filled with water brought by participants from the many different oceans of the world, at the base of a tree in the clearing. We all placed roses on the tree, and a Kanaka Maoli delegate from Hawaii said a Hawaiian prayer for peace. I felt badly for the tiny bulb shoots around the tree that the group was inadvertently trampling underfoot (you had to be a gardener from northern climes, I guess, to recognize the tiny budding life in the wintry landscape), but the ceremony did leave us all with a sense of peace and common purpose.

And now – time to visit the Department of the Interior, and to see some of the city.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reflections on the Way to the Capitol

Sitting on an airplane, en route to DC, I have the opportunity to catch my breath for a few hours, and to reflect on just how much we've accomplished over the past month. For starters, Laurie and I have carved out a 57 minute rough cut of the film -- something I thought couldn't be done -- and the proof is on three DVDs, safely tucked into the carry-on bags at my feet.

I've also updated our website (at long last, and with late-night help from my unbelievably helpful husband Nik). If you haven't checked it out lately, please do: It's bare-bones, and nothing fancy, but it's clean and up-to-date. I'm hoping to work on a much bigger, richer website in the months to come...

Other accomplishments from the whirlwind of the last two weeks: I've nailed down a venue in LA for a fundraising screening next Sunday (more info on that in my next post), sent in two more funding applications, upgraded my organizational and financial systems, and finally found a good bookkeeper. I got a screening time at the AFSC/IPS  conference being held in DC this weekend (hence the flight I'm on), and I even managed to get my hair cut. I'll drink a toast (ginger ale and pretzel snacks, please) to the end of February... may March be just as productive, but a little less hectic!

As for what's up next... this is my first trip to DC in many years, and only my second trip to the US since Obama's election. I am curious to see how things may have changed in my absence. And part of me, lately, is very very homesick... I have been in Canada now for over four years, and I feel like my American identity is slowly fading. Here I am, making a film about what it means to be American, and I myself no longer know. So part of this trip will be trying to figure that out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Three important things to know about Laurie

Since the Horse Opera website is in the process of being updated and doesn't yet include our whole team, I thought I'd just post a quick note here about one of the most valuable members of the Horse Opera crew: editor Laurie MacMillan.
Things to know:
#1: Laurie is a GREAT editor. She has taken my vision, and my overly long and complicated rough cut, and made it sing. WE LOVE LAURIE!
#2: Laurie has a great attitude. Here is a picture of Laurie, editing The Insular Empire in what has come to be known as "the world's smallest editing bay." And yet look how cheerful she is! Amazing.
#3: Laurie loves Trader Joe's -- maybe even more than I do -- and has been in severe withdrawal since her arrival here in Vancouver. Our recent trip to Seattle replenished her store of Trader Joe's Tom Yum cashews... let's hope they hold out until I can buy her more next month in LA...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Post-Seattle Update

I had meant to post something here prior to the Seattle screening, but things were just too crazy for that to be feasible. I'm happy to say, though, that we got the latest cut ready in time for the screening, and made it down to Seattle without a hitch. Our host Scott Lipsky was very generous and made his beautiful home on the West Seattle waterfront available for two screenings, which went quite smoothly.

Overall, the feedback was really useful. It looks like the changes we made in response to the Vancouver screening are working (no slow spots anymore - hooray!), and we got some really good feedback on ways to improve the look of the animation sequences. Most importantly, the audience, on the whole, seemed to GET the idea of the film.

What was interesting was that the idea itself -- the inherent complexity of the relationship between the Marianas and the US -- was hard for many viewers to accept. Similarly, our decision to give equal weight to each of the film's four characters (and their often conflicting viewpoints) seemed to make many of the mainland viewers uncomfortable. But I think this just goes with the territory. The Marianas ARE complicated, and their relationship to the US is extremely conflicted. This is not something most (non-indigenous) Americans have had to think about before. All the more reason we need to develop a really amazing website, that can help answer a lot of the questions the film raises.

And speaking of amazing websites... I should mention that I've started working with a really great designer here in Vancouver, Lara Kroeker, of Randomlink Interactive. I'm about to start a new fundraising campaign, to help pay for her services in creating the Insular Empire's digital outreach campaign.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What a great screening!

Last night was a big success -- we had about 30 people show up at Raw Canvas (standing room only) to watch the screening, which went off without a hitch. 

We got a lot of GREAT feedback -- first in a lively discussion afterwards, and then poring over the feedback forms everyone had filled out for us. The feedback, overall, was very positive: the consensus seemed to be that the first half and the ending were working really well -- but that the film lagged at about the 2/3 mark. Laurie and I went out for beers afterwards and brainstormed a bunch of ideas on how to fix that... so now we're heading back into the edit bay to see if we can't iron out these last wrinkles over the next week.

Another thing that became clear to us during the discussion was that the audience was almost entirely Canadian; and since our intended audience (at least for the current PBS cut) is really American, we've decided to schedule another screening, for next weekend (1/31), down in Seattle. My next post will include more details for that screening... stay tuned!

Monday, January 19, 2009

DOC screens IE rough cut, day after tomorrow

I sit on the board of the Documentary Organisation of Canada, BC chapter (DOC-BC), which runs a monthly screening of local independent documentaries and works-in-progress. The "DOC-screens" committee has agreed to have their next event be a rough cut screening of The Insular Empire, at a very cool little cafe/artist space in Yaletown, called Raw Canvas. My fellow DOC-BC board member, Adelina Suvagau, has also agreed to feature the screening in her weekly show on Omni, Rompost TV.

I'm so excited! Laurie has been editing away for the past two months, and this will be the first public screening of her work on the film. We're really looking forward to getting feedback -- specifically on whether or not we should keep this longer version for festival distribution.


Monday, January 5, 2009

What better way to end 2008...

than with another finishing grant? This one from the Northern Mariana Islands Council for the Humanities, in the form of $10,000. News of the award came on New Year's Day -- what a great way to ring in the New Year!

The NMICH was instrumental in providing production funding, and now they are providing the last amount needed to complete the film. My heartfelt thanks go to NMICH acting Executive Director (and crack historian, AND former Peace Corps volunteer) Scott Russell, for his help in shepherding this project through to approval - twice!