February 3, 2015 | REBELS WITH A CAUSE | St. John, U.S.V.I
First Stop: St. John Film Society, U.S. Virgin Islands
Temperature: 88° day, 86° night
First of all, I did not know where in the world St. John was until I got there and looked on a map in the Moon Handbook for the Virgin Islands. St. John is a small island 70 miles east of Puerto Rico and 1200 miles south of the tip of Florida—part of what Christopher Columbus called the West Indies, a 1,500-mile long archepelego that arcs from Cuba to just north of the coast of South America. The St. John Film Society invited Rebels with a Cause partly because the St. John National Park is a major presence, covering 70% of the island.
The legacy of slavery is evident all over the New World, but is strikingly, painfully so here. According to the history section of the Moon Book, in the 18th and 19th centuries, slave runners brought over 10 million African slaves to the West Indies, mostly from Western and Central Africa. All the islands of the Lesser Antilles produced sugar and other crops—slaves built the roads, ports and infrastructure, harvested the crops. They were literally the back upon which the West Indies was built. In the late eighteenth century, a combination of slave rebellions and abolitionists’ agitation in Europe and the U.S. began to end slavery. Finally after much debate and—in the U.S., a civil war—slavery as an institution began to disintegrate and, without slave labor, the plantations began to fold. The Danes (who were the colonial masters of the Virgin Islands until 1917) abolished slavery in 1792; Great Britain, in 1808; the Spanish followed in 1886. Throughout the St. John National Park, Kenji and I saw plantation structures from the time of slavery: five foot high stone fences, the stone and mortar ruins of a rum and sugar plant. Seeing all of that and reading what the park said about its legacy struck my heart.
It’s high season in the Caribbean, lots of people “on island.” Andrea Leland, Founder of the Film Society, and her team, Celia Kalousek and Sabrina Castle promoted the film so well, a lot of people came, 50 or 60. To accommodate all of them, we added chairs and more chairs, the room was packed. Some employees of the Virgin Islands National Park joined us, including Deputy Superintendent Jayne Schaeffer. And we had a local rebel! David Silverman, Co-Founder of the Save Coral Bay movement, who took part in the post-audience discussion with Andrea, me, and Kenji. Once again, seeing Rebels made people in the audience think about what is happening in their world. The audience saw dramatic parallels with the Rebels with a Cause Bolinas Lagoon story and their own Coral Bay on St. John, where some large development corporations are proposing two enormous marinas. Both Bolinas Lagoon and Coral Bay are similarly positioned on the edges of their parks and both have pristine natural bays full of sea life. David was particularly pleased that some audience members expressed their support for the work he and his group are doing, some of them people he didn’t know until that night were on his side.
The wide-ranging discussion focused on the relationships between national parks and the indigenous people who’d been on the land before. For example, the Point Reyes National Seashore recreated a Miwok Village and although, at the time, park organizers thought the tribe no longer existed, the village drew Miwok in the Bay Area together, and some years later, the Miwok re-established themselves as a federally recognized tribe. In the Virgin Islands, the native people are descendants of the Taíno people who came from South America, and the slaves brought from West Africa in the 18th and 19th century.
I think the St. John community got a lot out of the film and the discussion, I really enjoyed seeing the audience come alive.
Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Nancy Kelly.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.