Ocean View resident Jonithen Jackson plays Jacob in “The Land of Eb,” but he’s also a producer of the film, which is a dream come true. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
During the filming of “The Land of Eb,”Director Andrew Williamson speaks with actors Rojel Jonithen and Jonithen Jackson. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
In “The Land of Eb,” Jacob, played by Ocean View resident Jonithen Jackson, isn’t able to drive so he walks the kids to band practice. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Jackson not only stars in “The Land of Eb,” but he’s also a producer of the film, which he said is a dream come true. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
A scene for “The Land of Eb,” a story about a Marshallese family man living in Kona who is diagnosed with stomach cancer, keeps his illness a secret and resolves to pay off his family’s debt before his death. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
“The Land of Eb” crew rigs up the prop vehicle for a scene. (The Land of Eb/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Three years ago, Kailua-Kona filmmaker Andrew Williamson accepted an invitation from a friend to visit a Marshallese community within Ocean View and see some of the volunteer work being conducted by the University of the Nations.
By happenstance, he met Jonithen Jackson, who made a living working on cars and picking coffee, but had a passion for filmmaking. Jackson was eager to make movies and spoke passionately about his dream to tell stories about the Marshallese. He also showed Williamson, a faculty member of University of the Nations, the 12-foot camera boom he made out of old bike parts and other items found at local garage sales.
Besides his creativity and ingenuity, Williamson said he was struck by Jackson’s attitude.
“After all the hardship he and the Marshallese people had endured, specifically at the hands of the U.S., you couldn’t detect even a shred of bitterness,” Williamson said. “(Jackson) said he had already forgiven them and was now focused on creating a better life for his family and community by providing his kids and grandkids with a better education than he ever had. His resilience was moving and in this we saw a story worth telling.”
At first, Williamson and his friend, John Hill, thought they would help Jackson do a video project. But the more they listened to the stories Jackson and his community shared, as well as learned about the history pertaining to what brought the Marshallese to Hawaii, they saw an opportunity to produce a unique film to bring awareness to an issue and show the tenacity of life.
“The Land of Eb,” Williamson’s debut film, is not “a guilt film,” but a fictional story about “the human journey,” as well as “one’s will to stay focused, continue moving forward and rise above everything, including politics.” Though the ending isn’t the happiest, the film also shares the universal message of hope, said Williamson, who is the director and producer.
Shot exclusively in Kona and Ocean View, “The Land of Eb” tells the story about a Marshallese family man, Jacob, who is diagnosed with stomach cancer but keeps his illness a secret and resolves to pay off his family’s debts before his death. It explores the frustrating, day-to-day difficulties of living in a world that doesn’t share your native tongue, culture or values, Williamson said.
Jacob, an intelligent man, continually suffers indignities because of a considerable language barrier. But when he records his family’s history for posterity on one of his video cameras, he speaks eloquently in Marshallese of the mother country they can never go back to and dashed dreams of their new home, Williamson said.
Williamson and Hill wrote the script. They partnered with Jackson, who is a producer and plays the main character, Jacob, with “great heart.”
The feature-length fictional film had “a mircobudget,” of which most of the money went to food, transportation and housing. Twenty-two days were spent shooting “The Land of Eb,” completed at the beginning of this year.
The cast, comprised of nonprofessional, volunteer actors was recruited from the Marshallese community. There were also 17 crew members, of which 95 percent were unpaid University of the Nations students, Williamson said.
By participating in this film, Williamson hopes the cast and crew realizes filmmaking is more than a creative outlet to capture imaginations; it can be a way to make a livelihood, as well as spur action, understanding and awareness, he said.
Williamson spoke about the importance of giving people tools to rise out of poverty. He also shared his plan to help Jackson produce his own 30- or 90-minute feature film, possibly shot in the Marshall Islands.
A major accomplishment that left Williamson “humbled” was having “The Land of Eb” premier at last month’s Toronto Film Festival, where it received a “warm reception” from the packed audience. There, Williamson got “a big compliment” when an audience member revealed he didn’t realize until the end that “The Land of Eb” isn’t a documentary.
“The Land of Eb” will be shown at this month’s Hawaii International Film Festival, where it’s one of only six films competing for the Halekulani Award, and at the Chicago International Film Festival. It will also be shown at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Hilo Palace Theatre and the goal is to get it in this spring’s Big Island Film Festival, Williamson said.
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