Nature’s only living gem, the pearl, has the power to make a drastic impact on the world in more ways than one. The pearl feeds communities, empowers women, educates children, preserves dying cultures and repairs the oceans. Power of Pearl is a documentary that will present pearl farming as a model for effective and positive globalization. Following three pearl farmers in the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia, Power of Pearl will illustrate how an industry can function sustainably as a community through an understanding of cultural sensitivity and economic consumption.
When a pearl is harvested from an oyster, nothing goes to waste. The muscle meat is eaten, and the shell is turned into buttons, jewelry, and a variety of other decorative arts. The reproductive organs are used as fishing bait; even the biofouling and microbial life that is scraped off the outside of the shell is used as fertilizer for the gardens. Bivalves are highly productive filter-feeders. The Pinctada Maxima, a South Sea oyster, can filter up to sixty gallons of water per day. Like all oysters, farming the Pinctada cleans the water and increases biodiversity, marine life, and coral growth.
By documenting the struggle of our three main characters, this film hopes to increase environmental consciousness and cultural sensitivity. The farmers are all westerners in foreign lands who succeed because of their deep respect for preserving the cultures and environments they inhabit while fostering the growth of these communities.
The world, now more then ever, is in need of the message being delivered by Power of Pearl. The use of media by artists has opened the western consciousness to the immediate impacts of global warming, environmental awareness, and a need for a lifestyle shift.
We are going to have to learn to live as a global society. How is that possible if we cannot effectively manage our own societies? This movie intends to bring audiences back to the root and open a window to communities that succeed in all aspects of life. They are on the front lines of global climate change, living sustainably, with an ability to quickly rebound from any travesty due to the strength of their communal core and spirit.
Many western companies have a history of invasive, often detrimental globalization; they enter a culture, upend its traditions, and commodify its most sacred treasures. However, these pearl farmers believe that creating this naturally beautiful gem must be a labor of love, and a homogenized workforce doesn’t create love. It takes a community and a family. In the pearl’s three-year growth cycle, it will pass through 3,000 hands, and each one of those touches has to be just right. Our pearl farmers have taken great care to respect their new communities’ long history and culture, helping to build a stable economy to ensure a future for the people. These powerful stories of human struggle and rich history of the world’s only living gem–set against the backdrop of a monumental paradigm shift of our global culture and environmental changes–make for a thrilling narrative and breathtaking visual experience that is Power of Pearl.
IN THE BEGINNING
When Taylor and I first embarked on this project, I don’t think either of us had any idea how ambitious an undertaking this would be. Now, three years later, we are still making daily discoveries.
There is so little information in print about pearl farming, and the majority of this industry is a mystery to anyone not directly involved. Very little information is even shared from farm to farm. There is no school of pearl farming, nor any “how to guide” we could study. We just had to completely immerse ourselves into this world and be as present as possible. This is when we discovered that the core of our film lay in the communities built, maintained, and supported by the farms.
SHOOTING THE FILM
When we set out to do principle photography for the film, there were four of us. No one was allowed to check a bag because we couldn’t afford to pay extra to ship the gear. We wore what we could carry on our backs or the t-shirts in which we wrapped the lenses and breakables. On the farms, we quickly learned of how enjoyable the “bucket-shower” could be at sunrise and the importance of a mosquito net. We ate with the workers–the fruit from their trees, the eggs from their chickens, and the fish they caught; they shared everything with us. If we got sick, they took care of us like family. On our very first day of shooting in the Philippines, we did a test dive with new underwater housing. It wasn’t long before noticing that the housing was quickly filling with water and the camera was in serious danger. It didn’t help that the majority of shell activities on the farm take place underwater, and there was no backup housing. Once the camera was dried off and in working order, our amazing AD/UPM, Zack Kamen, set out to fix the problem hundreds of miles from civilization. For the next two hours, Zack worked out an ingenious plan to fix the housing with one of the farm’s boat engineers (who spoke absolutely no English). It worked, and that housing held out for the next two months.
When you’re making a documentary, you don’t have the control over the situations and environments like you would in fiction filmmaking. There is never a quiet enough place to do an interview, it rains when you least expect it, and the sun always sets too soon. We were filming an interview at the Pulaki Temple in Bali, where local fisherman go to pray for safe journeys, and were extremely fortunate to have the high priest shut down everything so we could speak with him. The Priest of this temple was revered all over the island and had a very intense energy and spirit surrounding him. Every time he opened his mouth, our sound would die (we must have gone through 60 batteries in 20 minutes). When things finally started to work, a monkey ran around the camera, stole the keys from our driver, and bolted up a tree. The priest jumped to his feet, dropped his lavaliere, and climbed up after him to fight the monkey back for the keys. We did get what turned out to be a great interview, but not before we went through a whole ceremony of blessings.
TRAVELING THE DISTANCE
Throughout this journey, we have been fortunate enough to film in some of the most remote and pristine environments in the world. The pearl oyster is a filter feeder that cleans the seas just by existing. The growing and farming of this animal creates incredible amounts of biodiversity, and to be successful at farming, one must protect the area around his or her crop, limiting the access of outside people and threats. In Australia, James Brown took us out in one of his amphibious watercrafts to film the tidal shifts and the mangroves, and surprised with a sight no description I could ever write of will serve justly. The tides were rushing out, and the boat was in idling. A waterfall began to rise out of the middle of the ocean about 10 feet in front of us and after about 15 minutes we were standing beneath a 30-foot reef. James has founded the Kimberly marine research station, which is purposed with the study of the tides that exist only in this part of Australia. The coral here is unlike any in the world in that it is exposed to direct sunlight daily when tides change. Hopefully this research will lead to a better understanding of its resilient abilities and aid in the preservation of reefs around the world, which are being destroyed faster then the rain forests.