The Sound of Crickets at Night: Giving a Voice to the Marshall Islands
By Erica Burman on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
A former Peace Corps Volunteer, of course.
Although his main job is working for the people of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Jack Niedenthal (Marshall Islands* 1981-84) is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) filmmaker. On May 8th his fourth full-length feature film in the Marshallese language about the people of Bikini Atoll, Ainikien Jidjid ilo Boñ (The Sound of Crickets at Night), will screen at the 2013 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Jack Niedenthal’s first six years in the Marshall Islands were all spent in the isolated jungles of the outer islands. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer on Namu Atoll from 1981 to 1984, then contracted to work with the Bikini Council on Kili Island from 1984 through late 1986 teaching English to the adults, teaching in the elementary school and working with the Kili/Bikini/Ejit Local Government Council.
In 1987 he assumed the duties of the Trust Liaison for the People of Bikini, which includes the management and coordination of the funds allocated by the United States government to compensate the Bikinians for their suffering and to facilitate the radiological cleanup of Bikini Atoll. He acts as a liaison for the Council to the media, the U.S. government and its various agencies, the scientists who work on Bikini, the Bikini Council’s attorney, trustees, money managers, construction companies, engineers, project managers, auditors and business associates. The government of the Marshall Islands awarded him an honorary “Public Benefit” Marshallese citizenship in December of 2000.
In 2008, while with his 10 year old son, Max, in a local video store surrounded by the typical Hollywood-based fare, his son asked, ”Why are there no movies in Marshallese?” [Editor's note: Jack's wife of 25 years, Regina, is a Bikini islander. They have five children, two of them by adoption, and one grandson.] Realizing what a tragedy it was for the children of the Marshall Islands to grow up without seeing a film in their own language, set in their own country and dealing with issues unique to their own culture, Jack decided to venture into filmmaking.
He founded Microwave Films of the Marshall Islands, bought some filmmaking equipment and, along with co-director and co-producer Suzanne Chutaro (the daughter of a former RMI Peace Corps Volunteer Joe Murphy), made a Marshallese children’s movie, a fairy tale about a mythical Marshallese sprite, entitled Ña Noniep (I am the Good Fairy, 2009).
This film was followed by 3 more feature length films in the Marshallese language, Yokwe Bartowe (Poor Bartowe, 2010), Lañinbwil’s Gift (2011, a film that won numerous awards including “Best of Festival” at the Guam International Film Fest and “Best Foreign Film” at the Hawaii Ocean Film Festival), and now, Ainikien Jidjid ilo Boñ (The Sound of Crickets at Night), a narrative feature film about the people of Bikini Atoll that has already won the Atlantis Award for Foreign Feature Films at the 2012 New York based Moondance International Film Festival, the 2012 Grand Jury Award for Achievement in Acting at the Guam International Film Festival, was an Official Selection at the prestigious 2012 Hawaii International Film Festival, and now will be showing at the 29th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May of 2013 and the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii on May 26th.
A review on the website Film Threat says “this small and remarkable film is one of the year’s most engaging under-the-radar gems.”
View the film trailer…
For those who will be in the Los Angeles area in May, following is information on the screening there:
THE SOUND OF CRICKETS AT NIGHT
Screening AT 7 PM ON MAY 8th, 2013 AT THE CVG THEATERS
621 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Jack and the team at Microwave Films isn’t letting the Marshallese sand collect under their feet. They’re currently at work on their 5th feature film, entitled JILEL (The Shell).
*By the way, there isn’t a big Marshall Island RPCV contingent. We checked. Between the years 1966 and 1996, a total of 146 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in the Marshall Islands.