CAAMFest 2018’s Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) Showcase film Island Soldier, which follows three Micronesian soldiers fighting for the U.S., is now streaming for free through World Channel’s America ReFramed series and on PBS.org.
See highlights with director, cinematographer, and producer Nathan Fitch in a roundtable Q&A with Taylour Chang and other PIC Showcase filmmakers, below. For the full roundtable, please go here.
NATHAN FITCH (Director, Cinematographer, and Producer, Island Soldier)
Nathan is a filmmaker and visual journalist. Island Soldier follows members of the Nena family from Kosrae, Micronesia, one of the most remote islands in the world, to the training grounds of Texas and the battlefields in Afghanistan. The film tells the untold story of Micronesians soldiers fighting for their piece of the “American Dream” and the future of a small island nation.
Why should Americans see this film?
Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, and in Micronesia, the percentage per capita serving in the U.S. military is higher than in America. Americans should know who’s fighting and putting their life on the line for us.
The film portrays sensitive juxtapositions — for instance, the tension between being Micronesian and being American in the military. How did you approach portraying those juxtapositions?
I started thinking about making this film after I was in the Peace Corps living in Micronesia. There was a small local newspaper, and there were stories about veterans, and there were some community polls to get different people’s thoughts on military service because there were so many people leaving. The community take on it was very divided: some people thought it was a very positive thing, and some people were asking why they should be fighting for another country. That complexity created interesting questions that I wanted to explore in the film. After living in Micronesia for two years, I came back to the U.S., and it was hard to re-adjust from living in Micronesia: in the U.S., everyone’s value system is very much aligned with making money and having a career. It’s hard to come back to that from an experience that’s all about community and not so career driven. If it was hard for me as an American to come back to the U.S., what is it like to grow up on an island thousands of miles from the U.S., go to war for the U.S., and then come back home? I was interested in that journey. That journey has the juxtaposition of these incredibly beautiful lush green islands in Micronesia with these incredibly war-torn, dangerous places on the front line. For me, that was visually an interesting juxtaposition that I wanted to photograph.
Knowing that Micronesians are rarely ever depicted in film, did you feel a heightened responsibility to represent Micronesians in a certain way?
I did from the beginning realize there was a responsibility because there is so little media content made about Micronesia, and military service is a big subject for them. I felt the double weight of representing people who don’t get represented very often. Also, I was dealing with a subject that has to be handled delicately because it’s about life and death and about people who have gone through a lot. With soldiers, you have to be respectful. It was important to me that the film feel like it was true to the experience and that it was respectful. I didn’t want to overtly make judgment or be too heavy handed because it’s a complex topic. To do it justice it couldn’t be a black-and-white thing. It needed to be a more nuanced portrait versus something too stark because that wouldn’t have been true to the experience of the islands. Also, I remember reading really negative representations of Micronesians in places like Hawaiʻi and Guam — this idea that Micronesians are homeless and asking for handouts — and those representations didn’t feel true to the people who I had known while I was in at the Peace Corps. I felt like Island Soldier could be a different strand in the narrative of who Micronesians are. I wanted it to be a counter narrative to what I was seeing in the newspapers and the media.