Last month, I was fortunate enough to gallivant across the Big Island of Hawaii for a week, witnessing real-life lava flowing into the ocean–something I never thought I would witness with my own two eyes. (It was some serious National Geographic shit!) This particular flow decimated the area back in the 80’s, so luckily, it wasn’t endangering any of the island’s current residential areas. But two years ago, one flow erupted and headed directly toward the center of Pahoa, a small rural town on the eastern coast, threatening to cut off the only access road available and push them into even further isolation.
Co-directed by Phillips Payson and Suzenne Seradwyn, Aloha from Lavaland is a 55-minute documentary now available through Kickstarter, that chronicles this community’s unique way of life. It includes perspectives from a local Hawaiian healer, a sustainability expert and the leader of a sovereign Hawaiian community, as the locals prepare for the impending slow motion disaster. Filmed over a period of seven months, the doc portrays exactly what it’s like to live in such an unpredictable paradise.
I had the chance to speak with the film’s writer and producer, Zoe Eisenberg, to learn more about the flow, the production, and what’s next for her production company, Larkin Pictures:
Zoe Eisenberg: One thing that people often misunderstand about the lava here is that it is nearly always flowing somewhere. Luckily, it usually flows directly toward the ocean, adding land mass and creating a beautiful spectacle without taking out anyone’s property. However, the flow we covered began in June 2014 when a vent opened up and began sending lava in a different direction – straight toward the town of Pahoa. However, what truly made this flow such a big deal was that the lava seemed to be charting a course right across Pahoa’s only access road. Pahoa is pretty remote already, but to have our only access road cut by lava would mean our district would be extremely isolated.
TLW: What made you want to produce the film, besides the fact that you live there?
ZE: As soon as the lava began heading toward town, the media began crawling all over. We had everyone from Nat Geo to Fox News out here covering the flow, but most of it was sensationalized. No one was really looking closely at what the residents were feeling during such a tumultuous time. There were some people panicking over potential isolation and the loss of their property, but most were calm, and even excited. The volcano is a spiritual symbol to both the Hawaiian people, and many non-natives who have made the island their long-time home. So while mainstream news was looking at this as a catastrophe in action, many locals were looking at it as a visit from God. These are some of the elements that were being missed in mainstream news, and this is what we really felt compelled to cover.
TLW: What aspects about that part of the Big Island do you love the most? What makes it special?
ZE: I live in Puna, which is the district that the town of Pahoa belongs to. It’s a bit hard to describe what exactly makes this place so fantastic, as it’s more of a feeling you get when you come here. There is a wild, other-worldly element to this part of the island that I fell in love with when I first visited about 10 years ago. The lava adds to that wildness, of course, but it’s more than that. Some describe this area as the wild wild west, and it definitely doesn’t feel like you’re still in the U.S when you come here. The people who live here are wonderful – strange, independent and kind. This area seems to breed happiness, and I have long wondered whether Puna creates happy people, or if happy people are naturally drawn here.
TLW: How receptive was the local community when they found out you were making this movie?
ZE: Our community was so supportive. Our Executive Producer Robert Kent is very involved in our local community so all of his friends and contacts were excited to lend a hand, and in general everyone was very supportive of the project and willing to talk to us.
TLW: What was the biggest takeaway for you as filmmakers? Did it surprise you?
ZE: Well, this was the first documentary I have produced. Typically I work on narrative projects, where the outcome of the film is controlled. But we had no idea what the end of this film would be, so of course that was a surprise.
TLW: The film is completed and currently available for purchase on Kickstarter. What do you plan on doing with the money and do you have any festival or screenings planned?
ZE: We’re offering the film for sale on Kickstarter to help raise some final finishing funds, which will go toward submitting to more film festivals, having DVDs made, and other miscellaneous things like insurance. The film premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival, and was selected to screen at the Indigo Moon Festival, a social change festival in North Carolina. We’ve also done several community screenings on the island, but hope to spread the film’s reach off island, too. That’s where Kickstarter comes in.
TLW: What is next for you?
ZE: My producing partner and I are currently working on our fourth film, a narrative feature that shoots on the big island and also involves the lava – I guess I’m a bit of a lava junkie now. That film will shoot in early 2017.
Check out the trailer below and head over to Kickstarter for more info:
“Aloha From Lavaland” is an upcoming documentary exploring the culture and community reaction to a threatening lava flow, asking what it really means to live in such an unpredictable paradise. On June 27 2014, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted and lava began flowing directly toward the center of Pahoa, a small town on the Big Island of Hawai’i.