The Sound of Crickets at Night is the latest film by Jack Niedenthal -- is about the people of Bikini Atoll who were exiled from their homeland after US nuclear weapons tests.
The film, the fourth feature by Niedenthal has been awarded the Moondance Atlantis Award for foreign feature films.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Jack Niedenthal, film maker, Marshall Islands
NIEDENTHAL: It is, it's really been just a marvellous experience. There's over 100 foreign films that get entered into this and the idea that we're one of three feature films that are going to be shown at this festival is a really great tribute to all the hard work we did here.
COUTTS: Tell us about the film, what's it about?
NIEDENTHAL: Well it's about a young girl, a Bikini girl, she's 10 years old and she basically watches her family as it dissolves and gets very upset and eventually her mother goes one way with her younger sister, and the father goes another way, and she's left to take care of her old grandfather, his name is Jebuki on the island of Ejit where the people of Bikini live in exile to this day. So she very much misses her mother and her younger sister and her father and she begins to deteriorate, and the old man is trying to do everything he can to keep her happy. But he's failing and her life is just getting more miserable by the minute. And so he tries to raise the money to get a ticket for her to go visit her sister and mother in Arkansas but fails, he does everything he can for her but just can't keep her happy. So in the end fearing for her life, and at the same time himself being very sick, he decides he has to do something drastic, so he decides he's going to conjure up a deity, an ancient deity from Bikini Atoll to help the young girls. And this deity arrives in a very strange form and begins to help the young girls. And that's sort of how the movie flows through.
COUTTS: Now you said there still in exile today, what do you mean by that?
NIEDENTHAL: Well the people of Bikini were moved from their homelands in 1946, and here it is 60-whatever years later and they're still not back. Some of the people of Bikini live on Kili Island and some live on Ejit Island here in Majuro. So they still haven't been able to go back to their homelands.
COUTTS: Well you've been sort of on the cutting edge of what's happening there for a very long time haven't you Jack? What is the state, is there any likelihood that they'll ever get back to or be repatriated to their home islands?
NIEDENTHAL: Well when journos used to show up when I first started this job about 30 years ago, I used to tell them in ten years I thought the people of Bikini would be back. But since that time a lot of incidents have arisen in terms of the radiation levels, we're learning more and more about what's safe and what's not, and it's gotten to the people now we realised it's going to take a lot more money to clean Bikini than we originally imagined. And there's also the issue of a very poor world economy, which has caused their trust funds to really go down in value. So I'm 54, I hope in my lifetime I can see the people back and resettled on Bikini, that's where I am now.
COUTTS: Now your full length feature film at the Moondance international festival is called "The Sound of Crickets at Night". How did you get the title?
NIEDENTHAL: Well you know how some people when they think of a song they imagine it in a certain place and time in their lives? Well this old man throughout the film his memory of Bikini, he was really longing to go back to the Bikini, that's a real major part of the film, it is an old man in exile has vivid memories of living on Bikini. His memory of Bikini is sitting on the beach at night with his mother listening to the sounds of crickets, and that's the sound that he's associating and that's the kind of the theme of the movie as he dreams about Bikini, he remembers the sounds of crickets.
COUTTS: Well it's not just a huge honour for you, also for the Marshall Islands as well, putting it for the first time on the world stage for films. What do you actually get from it apart from kudos and reputation?
NIEDENTHAL: Well this film is really an extraordinary effort. You have to understand that most of the actors in this film are Bikinians, the person who played the deity is the former mayor of Bikini, Alson Kelen. The little girl who's ten, Salome Fakatou, she's really an extraordinary person to work with, she really shocked me one day by asking me some great questions about our previous film in English, and I just had to say to her, what's your name and where are your parents, I have to talk to them right away. She really impressed me. The old man is also a Bikinian, he's an executive council member. And even myself, I'm an actor in the film, I had to find somebody who'd be willing not to shave or get a haircut for eight months, and that pretty much left me. So I looked pretty straggly for a long time and thank god my wife let me do this, she's allowed me to play like a child at the age of 54. But it was really a lot of fun to make. So we're having fun, we're promoting our story and our culture out here, that's one of the main things we do because my son Max five or six years ago said to me in a video store, Dad, how come there's no Marshallese movies in our language? And that really bothered me, so I set out at the age of 50, and I decided I would make a feature film. And because what really struck me when he said that was imagine growing up all your life and never seeing a film in your own language, set in your own country, dealing with issues that are only relevant to your own culture. And it really bothered me that kids here growing up just with the Hollywood films and the other things you see in the video store. So that's a lot of gratification for us to have the Marshallese watch these films in their own language and just really enjoy them, something outside of the main Hollywood fare.
COUTTS: And will you have them sub-titled and tour it around the rest of the Pacific?
NIEDENTHAL: Oh yes we very carefully sub-titled this film, and to me it's really important that people, not only the Marshallese, but the films are directed at the Marshallese people. But I really want the rest of the world to see the message that these people have because it's so important, it's an island message, people really are close to their families out here, they're very kind people, they care about each other, and when you impose that on what happened to them with the nuclear weapons, it's a really traumatic contrast. You have these very kind nice people. This woman who just died recently here, Lijon Eknilang, she was just one of these really nice people and we always used to like to hear her talk because her personality showed the way the Marshallese are here. And there she is this victim from Bravo, from the fallout, it's really an intense contrast. So it's really nice when we're able to show these kind of stories.