It’s incredible what a week will do to folks.
Hawaiian music softly fills the room. I get there an hour before the showcase is supposed to start and take my usual seat in the back. Each table has a team and they’re all doing their best to finish up editing, final watches before exporting films, checking their phones to see if their relatives have already arrived. Mentors are working right alongside them and helping every step of the way, a few of them having been in their shoes just a few years before as former participants in HWF programs. It’s mostly quiet at the tables but there’s still energy buzzing throughout the space; five days of crash course film knowledge and production have all converged upon this moment. It’s both concentration and excitement to see how everything has turned out. But once 4:00 pm hits, everyone is moving just a little bit faster than they were a minute ago. Exporting, setting up chairs, welcoming parents and relatives into the space. We’re shifting now. From artists at their workbenches to seeing it all with new eyes on opening night, we’ve finally made it.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that this evening was a historic one. Every film made by participants is a huge thing to be celebrated in itself, as all of the films are both individual and collective contributions to the fight against white, cis-gendered-heterosexual men straining to maintain their once-firm grip on the film industry and media at large.
We are fortunate to have an organization like HWF that actively provides the space and resources needed to make that action possible. This showcase in particular, however, is a momentous one as it is the first one we’ve had in person in a year. We’ve gone from sharing links in Zoom chats and syncing our watch times together to picking a chair six feet apart from our friends and watching the same screen in the same room. No sound or wifi cutting out. No delays. And this time we have families, friends, parents, and caregivers.
For the first time in a year, we have an in-person community once again. And we have come together to witness the ultimate community act: world-building.
Because that’s really what these films are, especially at this moment in time. We were privileged enough on day one to learn about the long and storied history of climate justice, environmental racism, the calculated placement of toxic chemical output and pollutive processes near or directly in marginalized communities, as well as the ways in which we can help to combat these systemic and deeply rooted issues. By learning about and listening to communities most affected and (re)establishing a connection with the earth as a relative and a relative to be contributed to as opposed to extracted from are the ways in which we can carve out a different world. And I mean that as literally as I can mean it.
In the PSA “Middleground,” we learn about the impacts of a landfill that has been placed in Nanakuli, a predominantly Kānaka Maoli community, and how the toxic materials have engendered adverse physical and mental health effects for the mostly Indigenous population there.
In a similar vein to “Middleground” in the way of a PSA-like format, “The Impact of a Boba Cup” we learn about the disastrous environmental outcomes wrought on our marine ecosystems and the massive, often life-threatening branching effect that littering a single piece of plastic will have on our planet as a whole.
A departure from the more informative medium, “Global Warming” allows us a glimpse into a possible world where pollution and climate disaster have made living conditions that we’re used to a thing of the very distant past by providing comparisons between the way one girl lives in the suffering, but the still breathable world of today versus her descendent in the year 3029 who now cowers inside from the dark and toxic waste-filled air outside her room.
Each film took on a different issue that has been plaguing our planet and the most marginalized in our communities and ecosystems and made us look at it without filters. Even with the experimental film, all of these films force us to confront the possibility of living in a reality where chewing on plastic and Black and Indigenous communities becoming accustomed to comorbidities birthed by environmental racism are no longer just tragedies we sometimes hear about or know of being a thing that can happen, they become the norm.
This is a world we are in the process of creating every day that we remain in colonial and racist systems dedicated to the literal pulverization and conquering of our oldest relative Earth, our animal and more-than-human relatives, and the most marginalized in our earth’s communities. This is world-building at its worst and it is the one we all are used to.
There is another type of world-building possible, however, and these films show us that. They don’t just show us, they actively do it. The PSAs showing a discussion taking place between community members/partners about the impacts of landfills and toxic waste, someone standing up to a careless person who throws their boba cup on the ground and educating them on the harms of plastic on the ocean and the world as a whole, and the indirect conversation taking place between the two girls in “Global Warming” in regards to the importance of taking a look at the way the world is going and deciding to do what we can as individuals and communities to rally pushback and turn the tide are all proof of this. They are acting, creating, dreaming these things on film and during production but they are still having conversations, researching the facts, sharing the knowledge they’ve acquired during this camp with each other and audiences. In making these things they are doing the work and achieving it in all of its massive, decolonial glory.
Engaging in artistic work that highlights the problems but also magnifies the solutions is the ultimate kind of world-building because it is the active creating of a future where choices still exist. It is not relegating oneself to what extractive systems, industry, and colonization have told us are the only ways; it is the insistence that we actually always have the ability to live in a world where better living is possible. That we have the ability to live in a world where choice is still available and not a thing of the past. Is the road easy and the journey short? Nope. Not with all that’s against us.
But films like this, generations like theirs, and messages like the ones given to us on Saturday remind me that we have the love, the care, and the mana needed to come together and try. That we owe it to the earth, our animal and more-than-human relatives, and each other to pick up the tools we’ve created and build with them. That we deserve the future of choice. The possible future where we can choose not to survive, but to thrive.