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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Film 'humanizes' issue of global warming

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

An islander walks on the former Bikeman island in Kiribati. Rising sea levels already are an urgent issue for inhabitants of low-lying islands in the Pacific and elsewhere.

Torrice Productions

"Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands"

Public screening.

6:30 p.m. tomorrow (doors open 6:15 p.m.).

Keoni Auditorium at the East-West Center.

Panel discussion follows.

Free (parking $3).

Global warming is a universal issue. But it profoundly affects Pacific Islanders because their survival depends on the sea level, which rises as polar ice melts. Low-lying atolls are in so much danger that inhabitants of entire countries may soon have to move elsewhere.

Andrea Torrice, director and writer of "Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific," will play host to a screening of her latest independent film at the University of Hawai'i's East-West Center tomorrow. Following the show will be a panel discussion featuring Torrice; Joe Konno, executive officer of the Chuuk (formerly known as Truk) Environmental Agency; and Eileen Shea, East-West Center climate project coordinator.

Torrice, who has been making films primarily about human rights and the environment for public television for 10 years, said she was drawn to this topic in 1997 for several reasons.

When scientists began to explore global warming and their findings became known, she said, "I realized that I did not understand what (the statistics) meant, and that many Americans did not understand what they meant on a day to day, from the heart, personal level."

Torrice acknowledges that she is not a scientist. But she studied climatology for a year, tracked all of the studies and took another 2à years to obtain financing and complete the film.

"It was an enormous undertaking," she said in a phone interview from New York. "It was very difficult to get into one hour all of the issues. I did the best I could."

She did promise, however, that viewers will not get lost in jargon. "I wrote and created it to be accessible for a television audience."

Her primary objectives? "To put a human face on the climate-change issue. And to make (people) understand in a more personal way that we need to do something, and we need to do it now before it's too late. The Pacific Islanders will suffer tremendous losses if something isn't done. And they know it."

In the film, Ben Graham and Sandy Dismas of the Marshall Islands (where the highest land is only 34 feet above sea level) talk about how global warming affects their communities.

The cost of fortifying sea walls exceeds their national budget. Coral is excavated and garbage imported to create these walls. Families often must retrieve the bones as rising seas wash away graves. Stories like these humanize the topic of global warming.

Pacific Islanders are on the "front lines," Torrice said. "The people in my program are really the heroes in this enormously complex issue."

The focus on Pacific islanders is one of the reasons there will be a formal screening in Honolulu. "Our mission is to bring stories by and about Pacific islanders to national attention," said Carlyn Tani, executive director of the nonprofit media organization Pacific Islanders in Communications, which contributed financially to the film and is presenting it at the East-West Center. "It's a really important story that wasn't being told, and (making the film) was a training ground for our emerging talent."

Tani described the essence of the film: "It tells the story of global warming through the eyes of Pacific islanders who are living in the wake of its devastations."

Viewers also are connected to another island in the heart of America: Manhattan, which Tani said will "soon be experiencing what Pacific islanders are experiencing."

Torrice, who is not a Pacific islander but resonates passion for their cause, said the most serious problem Earth's inhabitants face today is that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years, trapping heat.

"Your grandmother's fossil fuel use is still up there," she said. "So it's piling up. We have not yet begun to feel the effects of the warming trends. And that's why it's so important to act now, so that future generations will have a future."