Takuu, a tiny atoll in Papua New Guinea, contains the last Polynesian culture of its kind.  Facing escalating climate change-related impacts, including a terrifying flood, community members Teloo, Endar, and Satty, take us on an intimate journey to the core of their way of life, their dreams and their fears. Will they relocate to war-ravaged Bougainville - becoming environmental refugees - or stay and fight to retain their unique language and culture? Two visiting scientists investigate on Takuu, leading audience and community to a greater understanding of the environmental impact.  However it is the community members' own meditations on what they stand to lose which allow us to truly understand climate change's implications.

The film's approach is excellent, permitting the viewer to evaluate for themselves what they see and hear.

Dr. Ilan Kelman, Reader in Risk, Resilience and Global Health, University College London, United Kingdom
Synopsis: 

There Once Was an Island is an excellent case study for discussions about culture, displaced communities, democracy, adaptation, conservation, and human rights. Four years in the making and winner of 15 international awards, this PBS documentary inspires audiences young and old to consider the immediacy of climate change and its cultural, political and environmental impacts, now and into the future.

It can be used in courses related to:

Anthropology, Ethnography
Conservation
Documentary Filmmaking
Family Studies
Geography
Immigration & Border Studies
Multicultural & Religious Studies
Oceanography
Political Science
Sociology
Urban and Environmental Studies

Reviews

There Once Was an Island powerfully depicts the islanders’ struggle to come to grips with their changing world.

Richard Feinberg, Professor of Anthropology, Kent State University, Ohio

It is one thing to sit in a classroom and be taught about climate change, but it's another thing to be completely enraptured by the true reality of climate change taking its course.

Kapisha Patel, High School Teacher, One Tree Hill College, New Zealand

The film captures both the beauty of the atoll alongside the imminent and dangerous future of the inhabitants. A haunting film that may serve as a prelude for other Pacific islands in the near future, and their challenges related to world-wide climate change events. 

Educational Media Reviews Online

There Once Was an Island bears witness to the local effects of global climate change on a culture deeply rooted to its geography. Combining thoughtful interviews with spectacular outdoor cinematography, New Zealand documentarian Briar March creates a heartbreaking portrait of a people who must choose either to move away or die with their island.

American Museum of Natural History

Unsensational, intimate and quietly passionate, March's meticulously observed examination of the crisis facing the small atoll of Takuu is an object lesson in patient documentary film-making...Rising oceans will displace hundreds of millions over the next half century and Takuu is the canary in climate change's coal mine. This sobering and important film is a warning to the world, if only it would listen.

Peter Calder, The New Zealand Herald

Beautifully filmed, March frames and constructs her shots with the eye of an artist. The colours, captured in high definition digital, are crisp and alive, creating real immediacy for the viewer and contrasting the aching sense of loss evoked in the unfolding story....An Island derives its significant emotional impact primarily from the vulnerability and artlessness of the Takuu islanders. The director wisely ensures they are kept to the fore. These people are confronted with the kind of tragedy few of us will ever have to face and of a magnitude that is difficult to fathom. To lose your entire land would be to lose your sense of place in the world. One scientist, in a poignant statement to the camera, outlines the cruel irony that these people, who, though paying the highest cost of global climate change, have made the least contribution to its advent. Despite the serious themes, it is to the credit of the filmmakers and the people of Takuu that March’s documentary does not leave you feeling cynical and disillusioned, but rather with a strong sense of hope. 

The Lumiere Reader

While Island does not propose solutions, the film reminds us that our personal and political decisions reverberate across the sea to small island communities like Takū. As one scientist observes, this atoll that sits just 3 feet above sea level “is their world, and their world is being destroyed.”

Robynn Takayama, Asian American Film Festival

The intimacy of March’s encounters makes this confrontation with a global crisis a vividly personal one. If there’s truth in the claim that people will only begin working to counteract climate change when it affects them personally, then this quiet evocation of a tiny, vital civilisation under siege from the sea that once nurtured it immediately brings that moment closer for anyone who sees it. 

The New Zealand International Film Festival

An excellent resource for use in high school, university, and community settings.

Sarah Strauss, Global Climate Change Task force

This emotionally charged documentary had audiences in tears... It will completely change your outlook on life.

Raindance Film Festival

There once was an island is a rare gem among climate change movies.”

Richard Leckinger, Greenpeace