Honolulu Advertiser

Filming untold stories

By Chris Oliver   Advertiser Staff Writer

On the north side of Moloka'i, where the tallest sea cliffs in the world shelter remote Wailau Valley, there is no running water, no cell phone reception, no electricity, no roads. Access by boat is limited to calm sea conditions during summer months.

"It was a tough assignment," said filmmaker Ann Marie Kirk, who went to Moloka'i to make a segment for "Pacific Clues," a nine-part television series Kirk made for the Teleschool Branch of the state Department of Education. The series explores cultures and stories from around the Pacific.

"We had to swim to shore with all of our equipment packed in waterproof bags and then hike along a difficult trail into the valley," Kirk said.

Nature's film set, however, was magnificent: fluted cliffs, waterfalls, birdsong, and in the valley's seaward lowlands, an ancient terraced lo'i (irrigated taro field) system that Kirk had come to film. On the boulder-and-black-sand beach, the crew set up their temporary home.

Against this landscape, University of Hawai'i anthropologist Windy Keala McElroy hosts the segment for "Pacific Clues," bringing to life the people who once lived in and cared for the valley's extensive lo'i system. Her work is the first large-scale archeological survey of Wailau and the first excavation in the valley.

"The earliest (lo'i systems) date to approximately A.D. 1200, and they continued to have been built into the historic era," McElroy said. "My research shows that the largest systems offering the greatest output were constructed earliest in time."

Though "Pacific Clues" is aimed at seventh-graders, its broad appeal is to anyone interested in the Pacific and unanswered question — such as what caused Rapa Nui's "ecocide," and how the massive moai statues were moved across the island.

Another segment examines the mysterious footprints left in the Big Island lava fields 200 years ago. Kirk also features the Islands' heiau systems, and explores ceremonial sites on Mokumanamana and Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"All the archaeologists and anthropologists featured in the series are UH faculty, students or alumni," said Kirk. "I really wanted to give voice to and highlight the amazing work being done in the Pacific by the UH Anthropology Department."

Thousands of miles away on Rapa Nui, where the rolling landscape is curiously open, anthropologist Terry Hunt hosts a "Pacific Clues" segment that examines how the island's deforestation came about.

"We actually know the island was once covered in as many as 16 million palms, from archaeological and palaeo-ecological research done on the island," said Hunt. "By the time Europeans arrived in 1722, most of the native vegetation was probably already gone."

How and why did deforestation come about, and did this contribute to the downfall of the island's civilization?

Behind Hunt, embedded in the hillside at a jaunty angle, is a moai, one of the many giant statues Rapa Nui, also called Easter Island, is famous for. How the moai were moved to sites around the island is the subject of another program.

Rapa Nui, in fact, sparked Kirk's idea not only to make "Pacific Clues" but a separate series, "Stories to Tell."

When a 1999 documentary about the island featured UH archaeologist Michael Graves, the DOE Teleschool Branch became interested in the connections between Rapa Nui and Hawai'i for its Pacific studies curriculum.

Chatting with Graves, Kirk learned about four whaling ships which had been been sunk in Pohnpei, now part of the Federated States of Micronesia, during the U.S. Civil War. The ships, sunk by the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, included the Harvest, a ship homeported in Honolulu. Kirk was intrigued, especially when she heard the remains of the whalers still lay in Pohnpei harbor.

"Stories to Tell," the companion series to "Pacific Clues," explores how and why the U.S. Civil War came into the Pacific, and looks at the dramatic changes in Hawai'i and the Pacific as a result of whaling.

The series follows maritime archaeologist Suzanne Finney as she dives to the whaling shipwrecks to identify ships' parts and gather evidence to tell their story.

Combined with "Pacific Clues," Kirk's series takes students out of the classroom on a virtual field trip of adventure and exploration.

"Our goal is to have students gain a broader understanding of the Pacific, and how cultures found here were affected by world events," Kirk said.



Who: Ann Marie Kirk, 47, graduated from Sacred Hearts Academy, Honolulu; attended University of Hawai'i and UCLA film school.

Position: Filmmaker with the Teleschool Branch, state Department of Education.

About "Stories to Tell": "The realization of how events thousands of miles away could impact a remote group of islands in the Pacific Ocean."

Biggest challenge: "Writing, producing, directing everything myself; being a one-woman show."

Filmmaking goals: "In all things, to retain a cultural perspective, and to explore every angle of an idea."