From building traditional Hawaiian sea ponds in the Pacific Ocean, to chaining himself to construction sites, Walter Ritte is always in motion. Walter, known affectionately by his community as Uncle Walter, is a kapuna (honored elder) and Hawaiian environmental activist. While he has faced countless environmental threats over the decades, he is currently facing an uphill battle to protect his community’s most sacred resource: water. The documentary centers on Walter Ritte’s current “water wars,” and follows his struggle to convince the government to start putting in place regulations to protect Molokai’s water.
Honoring age-old storytelling traditions, the documentary will stray from a talking head narrative. It will instead visually explore the day-to-day life of Walter Ritte, following him as he dives into the Pacific Ocean to build “fishponds,” and educates the next generation of environmental stewards. To narrate Walter's struggle, we will follow the path of water as it flows through Molokai's watersheds: from the rain forests to the coral reef "fishponds."
Visual Treatment's Contents
~ What are Molokai's Fishponds?
~ Who is Walter Ritte?
~ Visuals and Sounds of Molokai
+ Upper Watershed
+ The Waterways
+ The Reefs
~ Visual Storytelling Style
What are Molokai's Fishponds?
Fishponds are rock-walled enclosures in near shore waters, built in the coral reefs. For centuries, Hawai'ian's on Molokai used this farming technique to raise fish for their communities and families. The fish ponds, much like the coral reefs, are dependent on the fresh water that flows down from the mountains. It is for this reason that in Hawai'i, the watersheds also comprise the coral reefs along the coasts.
Who is Walter Ritte?
The subject of this piece, Walter Ritte, has been a pillar of environmental activism on Molokai and across the Hawai'ian Islands for over 40 years. From the dangerous occupations of Kaho‘olawe to stop the U.S. Military’s bombing of the island in the 1970s, to the resistance of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Monua Kea, Walter has been a constant champion of environmental preservation and Hawaiian sovereignty (ʻĀina). In recent years, he has also been heavily active against the GMO biotech industry, and is leading the fight to protect Hawai'ians' water rights. A fight that sees the local inhabitants of the land face off against cattle ranchers, who are drying the already dwindling aquifers.
Visuals and Sounds of Molokai
In the following clips, we compiled a series of landscapes from stock footage of Molokai, edited together with a soundtrack we created with our audio (mostly recorded in Veracruz, Mexico). The first video, "Molokai Land and Soundscapes," aims to give a visual sense of Molokai's topography. Against this backdrop, Walter and his fellow activists will be portrayed as another essential link in a complex chain of life that keeps the watersheds alive and breathing.
The ecosystems and the very water that keep Hawai'i flourishing will be transformed into characters of the documentary, each with their own agency and story. Through slow and personal cinematography, backed by a soundtrack composed of ambient sounds recorded on location, the very environment will become the true storyteller of the documentary.
The video will start when we meet Walter admits the coral reefs and fishponds of Molokai's coast. From there Walter will narrate the water's journey, describing how the humidity rises from the ocean and forms clouds. The clouds are then blown inland and are "captured" by the remaining cloud forests. Native Hawai'ian trees, like the O'hia' guide the water to the ground, aided by an entire ecosystem of moss, flying plants, mold and tree snails. The water then flows into the streams that feed Molokai's aquifers.
By creating a natural sound-scape, we eliminate the artificiality of a digitally composed musical score, thus allowing the viewer to sink into the environment, and explore a deeper and more realistic connection with the subjects. In the cloud forest, Walter we will meet the forest protectors who are striving to protect the fragile ecosystems that keeps Hawai'i's watershed alive.
The visual narrative, accompanied by Walter's words, will follow the water downstream. Here we will meet the activists who are fighting against cattle ranchers.
Walter Ritte and his allies are currently petitioning the local government to create regulations that would protect the Island's aquifers and prevent the "drying up" of the Island.
Due to the unregulated exploitation of the Island's water, and deforestation, the natural springs that used to flow into the Pacific ocean are running dry. These streams are a vital component of the shore ecosystem, and have contributed to Molokai's extensive coral reefs. They also sustain the fishponds, where Hawai'ians have farmed fish in the coral reef for centuries.
Here we will join Walter, as he and his community repair and build fishponds. We will also document him teaching the next generations about the importance of Hawai'ian subsistence and regenerative agriculture, in the face of large scale climate changes.
Visual Storytelling Style
Throughout Hawai'i Is Going Dry, Walter will become one with the landscape, his interviews providing a voice-over narration that will blend with a rich soundscape of the surrounding environment. The cinematography/editing will focus on the minute details of Walter’s relationship with the ecosystems he is striving to protect. The character’s struggles will thus be paralleled with the role the forests and the coral reefs play in the overall survival of the watershed.
Below is an example of this storytelling style, in which we documented the life and work of a native stingless beekeeper from Coatepec, Mexico. While the theme of this video differs greatly from Hawai'i Is Going Dry, it provides an example of how we intend to use intimate cinematography and slow montages to create an emotive link between the subject and our audience. In this video, we also used this technique to turn the bees into the video's secondary protagonist.
The following piece is a similar example of our editing style. While Hawai'i Is Going Dry will be radically different stylistically, this video exemplifies our work documenting how sustainable agricultural practices are key to protecting watersheds around the world.