Review: Island Earth – Cyrus Sutton’s documentary asks: What has Big Ag done to Hawaii’s food systems?

Sure, you saw Pipe heavyweight Dustin Barca run unsuccessfully for the mayor’s seat in Kauai recently, but did you really know why? Something about GMOs, you might guess, and you’d be partially right. But, as with most of the problems facing our country today (and pull up a chair—how much time you got?) Hawaii’s relationship with GMOs is complicated, nuanced, and worthy of a feature-length documentary.

So longtime surf filmmaker Cyrus Sutton made one. He’s spent the better part of the last couple years working on Island Earth, and the film is finally making a grand tour, possibly coming to a theater or community space near you. Later this spring, it will be released for online streaming.

Find it. Watch it.

Even if you’ve taken a few environmental or ag-science classes in college and you have a loose grasp on what GMOs are, and why they matter to our food supply. Even if you already have a healthy distrust of Big Ag and their chemical company brethren. Even if you don’t care at all about either of these things. Actually, watch it especially if you don’t.

Sutton takes you on a guided tour of what decades of mostly unfettered agricultural and chemical experimentation has done to Hawaii. He introduces you to the players who are stepping up to be a voice for locals who are tired of watching pesticides rain down on their farmlands, schools, and neighborhoods. You meet scientists like Cliff Kapono, a UCSD grad student who’s hoping to use his chemistry expertise in a positive way to benefit Hawaiians; Ashley Lukens, a political scientist helping to shape food policy; and Kauai’s activist/mother Malia Chun, fighting to preserve the health of Hawaiian children; among many other researchers, teachers, growers, farmers, and surfers.

Unfortunately, the meat of the story is how chemical companies have effectively transformed Kauai into a giant chemistry lab, dumping tons of highly toxic pesticides on thousands of acres of crops. While those crops aren’t meant for human consumption, the poison in which the plants grow has found its way into the bodies of Hawaiian children at an alarming rate.

Sutton also shows how taking control of one’s food supply is a form of personal power, rejecting the big, corporate model of food production. This is where Barca’s crusade comes in. His mayoral candidacy failed, but he’s making steps to both remove himself from the chemical-soaked conventional food industry, and teaching others how to do the same, while organizing themselves to take back political power in their communities from the powerful ag and chemical interests that tend to make (and flaunt) the rules.

Island Earth is beautifully and carefully filmed, and is uplifting for much of the time. Yes, sorry, watching it will make you very, very mad, too. But it’s a crucially important documentary. One of the most important messages wasn’t, I don’t think, even a purposeful part of the film: Island Earth makes clear that diversity is vital for a healthy, sustainable form of not only food production, but the natural landscape. I couldn’t help but think while watching it that you could say the same for the vitality of diversity in the civilized world, too.

Island Earth is making the rounds at the following theaters/performance spaces. More info is available on the Island Earth website.

Waimea Valley, Oahu, HI Thursday Feb. 2, 2017 7:00pm Waimea Valley Center, Q&A with Cyrus Sutton

Santa Barbara, CA Thursday Feb. 2, 2017 6:00pm WORLD PREMIERE at Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Metro 4, Q&A with Cyrus Sutton

Santa Barbara, CA Friday Feb. 3, 2017 11:00am Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Metro 1

Honolulu, HI Saturday Feb. 4, 2017 6:30pm Lane Lane Studios FREE Admission, Doors open at 6pm, Screening at 6:30pm, 327 Lana Lane Honolulu, HI 96813

Kauai, HI Friday Feb. 10, 2017 7:00pm Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center, Q&A with Cyrus Sutton

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