Film Review: "Island Soldier"


The history of Micronesia’s relationship with the United States is inextricably tied to the United States’ military. The U.S. has been called a liberator, a steward, a colonizer, and even an employer.

Island Soldier, by Nathan Fitch, a former Peace Corps volunteer to Kosrae in the FSM, documents the stories of three Micronesian soldiers. You follow Arthur Nena, as he moves from Kosrae to bootcamp, Kilfrank Sigrah, as he’s deploying to Afghanistan, and Sapuro Brightly Nena who was killed in action in 2012.

The film does a good job of highlighting continued problems with access to Veteran Affairs, economic dependency in the region, and a lack of opportunities. But where the film excels, is how it is able to bring to the fore the quiet stories of a mother grieving, a father waiting, a brother remembering, and a soldier dreaming.

Island Soldier is a spotlight on stories told in-passing. It is an important film that should be included in Pacific Studies. Outside of academia, it is an important film for a generation.

 Maryann Nena, mother of fallen soldier, Sapuro Nena.

Maryann Nena, mother of fallen soldier, Sapuro Nena.


Film Notes:

  • “After World War II, the U.S. ‘liberated’ Micronesia, which became a U.S. territory”. I enjoyed the use of quotes on the word, “liberated”. Much respect to the writer.
  • Coming from Micronesia, I don’t know how it’s like now, but the camera culture or camera awareness from when I was young was spirited. When someone has a camera out, people stare, pose, or awkwardly squirm out of the way. I don’t know how the cameraman was able to capture so many personal shots and not have an environment of children and curious eyes humming around him. Obviously the filmmaker showed great tact in placement and positioning.
  • Beautiful imagery/cinematography. Every frame looks like a painting. They took time to film scenery, a lot of setup shots (birds, trees, plants, water, ground, pictures) it gives a good representation of the island.
  • Camera work: Like a fly on the wall. The camera hovers almost intrusively to find a prime spot. It is out of view but within range to frame an important scene. Very well made film.
 Mario Robles of California, friend and brother-in-arms to Sapuro, visits Kosrae to pay his respects.

Mario Robles of California, friend and brother-in-arms to Sapuro, visits Kosrae to pay his respects.

Positives:

  • One minute and 42 seconds of history lesson. Condensed but concise. Straight to the point, now onward with the documentary.
  • Covered a number of important topics in a comprehensive way that didn’t feel forced. For example, economic dependency, COFA, Veteran Affairs, employment shortfalls, PTSD, political history.
  • The big questions for me are: what side does the film take? Is this an anti or pro military film?

    I think it depends on the viewer. The film does not take a firm stance. I, for the most part have been anti US military. So the documentary enhanced my negative outlook on the military in Micronesia. Conversely, someone who is pro-military can see these stories as stories of pride, valor, and honor. Further, the imagery of someone in uniform has the intentional condition of attracting attention. For the youth, who have yet to live their lives, seeing someone familiar in uniform and in a position of authority is attractive. Not many youngsters will sit to watch a documentary, however most of them will see the trailer. In the trailer, you see Sgt. Sapuro Nena say, “I want to be, an American… soldier”, out of context you can interpret that as pro-military. This may sound like a criticism of the film, but it is not. I think that any film has the problem of interpretation. I feel that Island Soldier is aware of this and does not tell you how to think. That is commendable.
  • Often times filmmakers will insert themselves into the film, even mentioning how they came to the subject. There is no mention of the filmmakers outside of the credits. I like to think that they wanted all the focus to be on the families. Furthermore, the subject of the military in Micronesia has always been told through the lens of the United States, or other occupying countries (Japan, Germany, Spain). Hardly, to my knowledge, has the story been told through our perspectives. This, as mentioned earlier, is the strength of the film.
 The body of Sgt. Sapuro Brightly Nena, arriving in Kosrae.

The body of Sgt. Sapuro Brightly Nena, arriving in Kosrae.

Negative:

  • The only real criticism is that there wasn’t enough time spent with Sgt. Sigrah’s family when he was on active-duty. I think there was a missed opportunity to see a family in waiting.

Quotes:

  • Funny:
    • “They served me a breadfruit when I graduated high school. Look at me now, I’ve upgraded to a cake with my name on it.”
  • Memorable:
    • “We don’t vote, but we can get killed. You know, we can serve and get killed.”  
    • “Coming back from Afghanistan, you survived the real battle. But there’s another battle when you came back to reconnect with your family.”
    • “We die for others, we jump on grenades for others, we protect other people, why is it that we want to go to a risky place? Put our lives on the line - why? Why, why?”