- The Land of Ebby John Hill and Andrew Williamson
The Land of Eb, a feature film in documentary style, is a memorable exploration into legacy and the struggles of Hawai‘i’s newest immigrants. Focusing on a family from the Marshall Islands, and the Marshallese community in Kona, Hawai‘i, where approximately 3,000 Marshallese reside, it places these struggles in the broader context of the complex relationship between the United States and the Marshall Islands. Under the direction of Andrew Williamson, the film brings into crisp focus issues of access to the United States through a Compact of Free Association, as well as the legacy of the prior US administration of the islands during the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (19471990), which allowed for US testing of nuclear weapons there in the 1940s and 1950s.
The film’s opening demands the audience take note of these facts in white text on a black screen: “Starting in 1946, the US tested nearly 70 thermonuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands. Many islanders were forced to leave their home for good. However, most were unable to escape the widespread radioactivity caused by over a decade of nuclear tests.” These lines not only contextualize the migration of Marshallese in the community [End Page 255]but also portray them as forced migrants, likely suffering from disease. This perception is further strengthened by text on the following black screen: “The Marshall Islands are ‘by far the most contaminated place in the world.’ US Atomic Energy Commission ( aec).” The stark presentation of these black-and-white statements mirrors filmmaker Dennis O’ Rourke’s discriminating use of visual text in his 1985 documentary Half Life: A Parable for a Nuclear Ageabout the lives of the people of Rongelap, downwind of the largest of the nuclear tests. The technique is a powerful means of providing emphasis and influencing an audience’s interpretation of what follows and is artfully deployed in this feature film. The result draws attention to the intimate reality that works of fiction can achieve. The audience learns not only that Marshall Islanders have been victims of US weapons testing, but also that they might be better off anywhere other than their contaminated home islands. Thus the title of the film, referring to the Marshallese mythical island where souls return after death, suggests the audience compare and perhaps contrast Kona, to which the people of Enewetak Atoll have fled, with an otherworldly paradise. Eb is eventually explained at the conclusion of the film, in the telling of a traditional legend, as “a Kingdom under the sea. There, no one ever goes hungry.”
However, this is not a film about Marshallese victims. This is a film about the life and choices of one Marshallese family residing in Kona. How do they respond to the changes in their lives? Where do they go for help? Who do they depend on? Who understands them? How will they teach their children to stand proud and to know their story? The film’s work to reflect on this sense of community, cohesion, and agency is very subtle but clearly present.
The action begins when the audience is introduced to a gentle, burly, middle-aged man who begins to narrate the story of his family’s emigration to Kona from Ujela Atoll, where the people of Enewetak were evacuated after the testing noted in the opening. Jacob (played by Jonithen Jackson) engages the unknown audience as he chokes up while describing his home, the forced evacuation, and the hardships of life in Enewetak. We later learn he is narrating his journey for his new grandson, Matthew, who appears as the scene shifts to the hospital room of Jacob’s daughter Ruth (Rojel Jonithen), where the family hold and embrace her newborn baby.
The backdrop to Jacob’s life...