Tuesday, 2 May 2017

ISLAND SOLDIER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017HotDocsHotPick - Military Colonialism USA

Colonialism Means Dying for Someone Else's Country
Island Soldier (2017)
Dir. Nathan Fitch

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You can never go wrong with a God's-eye view and the gorgeous shots at the beginning of Island Soldier are an especially appropriate way to introduce us to the deep blue waters surrounding the lush green islands of Micronesia and the strange, sad and beautiful world of the citizens of Kosrae.

It's immediately clear that the indigenous population of 6500 have a decent enough living to choose from in fishing, farming, forestry and/or tourism. Once our lofty perch shifts to Earth, we join a young boy working on his boat, the expanse of ocean on one side, the hilly boreal forest on the other.

The idyll doesn't last long - at least not for us. We immediately join a grieving family as a military escort removes a coffin from an airplane. Though all present are indigenous Island people, the coffin is draped in an American flag and followed by the wince-inspiring multi-gun salute that seems more suited to the gardens of stone across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. at the Arlington National Cemetery and not this paradise of over 200 volcanic islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Deftly using a mix of title cards over gorgeous images and period archival footage, we get a short-form history of Micronesia, its centuries of colonial rule and eventually being recognized as its own country. That said, we also learn that Micronesia is an official protectorate of the United States and as such, perfect recruiting grounds for the American military.

Director-Cinematographer Nathan Fitch doesn't waste much time with any formal informational proceedings - this is a film about the land, and most of all, its people. As glorious as it is to see the residents of Micronesia in this dazzlingly photographed Pacific Shangri-La, the film is infused with a deep melancholy that is often profoundly moving.

An older generation continues to toil in the traditional ways of the island (agriculture and fishing), but the youth of the island seeks something more. They want freedom, training, education and a "better" way of life.

Sadly, this means that many of them leave. Sadder yet, many leave permanently - serving the United States military in the far-flung regions of the Middle East. For so many young people, the permanence of their flight from the islands is the permanence of death on whatever battlegrounds America chooses to exercise its might. Bouncing between sequences of an old man preparing taro twixt attempting to Skype with his soldier son via a bad internet connection, to the rigorous basic training in Fort Benning and "action" in the field and a mother honouring her dead son by running a restaurant named after him - these amongst many other moments of life on and off the islands contribute to one of the more powerful and elegiac films about the continued "legacy" of colonialism - an ever-changing world of tradition yielding to conformity.

The "politics" of the film are well served by its first rate production value, bravely languorous cutting and accent on the changing landscape of humanity against the backdrop of a "land" that remains ever-constant.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three and a Half Stars

Island Soldier enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017