“SWAINS ISLAND -ONE OF THE LAST JEWELS OF THE PLANET” WINS FESTIVAL AWARD
The US territory of American Samoa made history over the weekend when its first submission to the BLUE Ocean Festival and Conservation Summit (held November 3-9 in St. Petersburg, Florida) won in the “Cultural Connections, People and the Sea” category.
“Swains Island -One of the Last Jewels of the Planet” was shot and produced by experienced diver and cameraman Jim Knowlton who traveled to Swains Island with a delegation in 2013.
“What an awesome celebration as we edge outwards and abroad on placing American Samoa on the map!” said Gene Brighouse, the superintendent of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS), through an email correspondence.
In addition to the Swains Island documentary, another film, entitled “Blue Journey American Samoa” received honorable mention in the same category.
According to their website, every two years, ocean leaders, filmmakers, photographers, scientists, explorers, entertainment executives – and the general public - gather in Tampa Bay/ St. Petersburg, Florida at BLUE to honor the best in ocean filmmaking, to learn more about the issues facing our oceans, and to collaborate on improving the future of our oceans and humanity. “The seven-day event is charged with energy as these diverse groups of people share knowledge and ideas with each other and with the general public.”
The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Event is a project of Make A Difference Media, a 501(C)3 non-profit organization.
In an earlier email to the Samoa News, Brighouse wrote, “We can expect the quality and recognition Knowlton and the Ocean Futures Society will accomplish with Jean Michel Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, and Nainoa Thompson to land us another spot in two years at the next International Film Festival.”
“Swains Island -One of the Last Jewels of the Planet” was screened by the local community at the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center in Utulei during the summer, to coincide with the historical landing of the Hokule’a World Wide Voyage, and iconic ocean advocates Jean Michel Cousteau, Nainoa Thompson, and Dr. Sylvia Earle. Even the Director of the NOAA/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Dan Basta was present.
According to Basta, it was seven years ago, while sitting at a local hotel, that he found himself wrestling with problems confronting Fagatele Bay and the Swains Island community. He said the goal was to find out how to make the Island more meaningful as far as ocean conservation.
Archaeologist Hans van Tilburg of the Maritime Heritage Program conducted a study and found that Swains contributed much to the boldest human migration and the largest marine migration in history. A report by Hans was submitted to Basta and an expedition to Swains followed.
Basta called their journey to the Swains Island as a throwback experience and upon arrival he wondered, “Is there something here?” and “How can we capture people’s imagination with it?”
He said he and a team of scientists “crawled” all over Swains and discovered things that “people forgot about” and “we started to piece things together and over coffee, stories started pouring in about Swains.”
It was then that Basta and his team decided that there was a need to make a film about the isolated island in the South Pacific and Jean Michel Cousteau, whom he described as a ‘risk taker,’ was the perfect person for the job.
Prior to being approached by Basta, Cousteau said he had “never heard of Swains before” but didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge and sail to Swains to see for himself.
Basta said the goal of their expedition was to document, explore and see what they could find out about Swains. He said they wanted to probe the mystery of the lagoon and after capturing everything they could on camera, Cousteau worked his magic and the end result is a winning film.
Before it was submitted to the BLUE Ocean Film Festival, the film was screened in Hawai’i and Washington DC.
Knowlton, during the local screening of the film, said that after diving on the coral reefs there, he discovered that Swains Island is special for many reasons and because of its isolated location, the Island is well preserved and far from the pressures of today. He said Swains Islanders have love and passion for their land and as a photographer, the beauty and unique location of Swains was something he wanted to capture right there and then because “it may not be there later.”
The expedition to Swains that resulted in the production of the film was the first systematic assessment and survey of Swains Island. The team included NOAA scientists, archaeologists, marine archaeologists, a geomorphologist, and researchers. The film takes the viewer on a trip to the Swains Island to learn about the history, culture, and the people, as well as the mysteries that are yet to be unraveled.
Cousteau said that the film is meant to capture the beauty of Swains and share it with the world.
The one-hour showcases the unique ecological and cultural aspects of Swains Island, and how the tiny island, which is now a part of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, has managed to stay untainted by modern pressures and live up to its name: “One of the Last Jewels of the Planet!”
Brighouse said in an initial interview, “We can thank NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for bridging the connections to wider networks that have led to opportunities in marketing and promotions of your sanctuary of the South Seas!”