I was born and raised in New York City. During my last year of film school, I visited a relative in Hawaii. When I arrived in Oahu, I was shocked by the overdevelopment of Honolulu and Waikiki. The commercial development I had seen in New York didn’t prepare me for seeing high-rise towers and fast-food chains juxtaposed against majestic Hawaiian mountains. Something about Waikiki and downtown Honolulu clashed against the environment and culture. How had this development impacted the Native Hawaiian community? I was particularly interested in learning about Native Hawaiian culture: if it was still being practiced, how Honolulu used to be and how it became what I saw, and whether there were alternatives to better manage the island.
My research led me to the island of Molokai, nestled between Oahu and Maui. Of all the islands in Hawaii, Molokai has the highest percentage of Native Hawaiians. I also learned that Molokai’s community has successfully maintained its culture for decades. I read that Molokai’s residents had fought a huge development project that would have turned a large part of the island into an upscale exclusive resort for the wealthy. Having just finished co-directing a documentary about a controversial rezoning in Harlem, New York, I knew the real estate industry was a powerful force. That Molokai had stopped a multinational real estate corporation meant it had much to share about effective strategy.
As I reached out to non-profit organizations on the island and spoke to locals, I learned about the island's people, their history, and their deep love for the land. I was fascinated by the complexity of the traditional Hawaiian land management system called the Ahupua’a, and horrified with the history of colonialism that led to its demise. I learned about the environmental damage caused by the sugarcane and pineapple industries, alongside ranching, which have maintained a stronghold on Molokai’s economy since the early 1900’s.
After learning that agrochemical companies today grow genetically engineered seed crops on the island, I knew I had a story to tell.
Many people on Molokai opposed using their island as an open-air test field for genetically modified seeds. I wanted to capture the response of community members who were working so diligently to protect the island. In the process, I learned that locals worked with experts such as Geoff Lawton and Andrew Jones to remediate degraded land, using permaculture techniques. Permaculture is an agricultural design system that works with the natural ecosystem. I and others on Molokai were amazed to discover that these techniques were rooted in ancient Hawaiian land-management systems. I was also amazed to see and document Molokai residents taking an active role in the larger statewide movement to oppose GMOs, demand transparency from the agrochemical companies, and articulate alternatives to chemical dependent farming.
The making of Abundant Land has been a transformational process for me as a director and as a person. Aside from the usual trials and tribulations that come along with independent filmmaking, the community members I followed taught me the importance of being connected to the earth, why challenging powerful business interests has to be a part of our collective strategy, and that building a strong community and protecting those resources we cannot replenish are critical objectives.