A group of small atolls in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, with a total area of about 26 square kilometers, making Tuvalu the fourth smallest country in the world. The population is about 11,000 people, half of whom live on the main island of Funafuti, which is so small that it "can be traveled lengthwise in about 20 minutes on a motorbike. Its width - from lagoon to ocean - in maybe 1 minute, at its widest point." The capital, Fongafale, is on Funafuti; the other islands are Fanutapu, Lakena, Nanumanga, Nanumea, Niulakita, Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae, and Vaitupu.

It is not known exactly when the islands were first settled by Polynesians -- at least 2000 years ago. The first European to visit the archipelago was Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana y Neyra, in 1568 and again in 1595. It was 1781 before Europeans again came near the islands and 1819 before they landed, but during the 1800s visits from whalers and traders became much more common. During this century, representatives from the London Missionary Society converted most of the people to a Congregationalist Protestant Christian sect, to which 97% of the current population still belongs. From 1892 to 1915, the area was a British protectorate]. Since 1915, the islands were part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, but in 1974, due to ethnic differences from the Melanesian people of the Gilbert Islands, the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands petitioned to become a separate colony. This was granted, and the name of Tuvalu given to the new colony the following year. It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1978, and is currently a constitutional monarchy which is considering changing to a republic. However, the future of Tuvalu is in doubt for other reasons.

No point in the islands is more than 15 feet (4.5 meters) above average sea level, and the unusually high "spring tides" that happen when the moon and sun are aligned can often flood large portions of the islands. Tuvalu has been active in global warming forums, saying that rising sea levels due to melting polar ice threaten its very existence. Most of the groundwater on the islands is undrinkable because of seawater leaking in, so drinking water is rain caught in rooftop containers. The shorelines are also more prone to erosion than in the past because of increasing population and the shortage of building materials in the islands leads the residents to take coral rocks to build with and mine sand for concrete-making from the bottoms of the lagoons offshore. Sometimes building materials are stolen from the seawalls which are supposed to protect the shorelines also. Climate changes have also hurt the coral reefs around the islands which formerly provided some barriers (and also a habitat for the fish that form a large part of the local diet).

Scientists are still debating about the long-term trend of the sea levels, but there is also the possibility that climate changes can increase the number of hurricanes, cyclones, or other weather cycles. In 1972, Hurricane Bebe destroyed nearly every building on the islands. Hurricane Keli in 1997 left the islet of Tepuka Vilivili "a bare stump of jagged coral" -- this was particularly unusual as it struck in June and the hurricane season for the region is usually November to April. Underwater earthquakes and other seismic events can cause sea surges that lead to Tuvaluan floods as well, and those storm surges both erode the land and spray salt onto the land, making it unarable. Its government has announced that the country's people were looking for places to migrate to if it became necessary, and asked for Australia and New Zealand's help; New Zealand agreed to a 30-year immigration plan.

Traditionally, Tuvalu has made money from fishing (or selling fishing licenses to foreigners) and exporting copra (dried coconut). Some subsistance farming is done, but there is not much productive land, so that a lot of food has to be imported. The CIA World Factbook says that "Substantial income is received annually from an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the UK and supported also by Japan and South Korea," but Tuvalu would like to be more self-sufficient. To this end, they have made money from letting their phone area code be used to route 900 numbers and from the rights to their .tv domain, as well as the purchase of their postage stamps by foreign collectors. Many Tuvaluans used to work in the phosphate mines in Nauru and send home money, but the mines are no longer productive. The evacuation of Tuvaluans to New Zealand may serve to replace this source of money for the country, since so far "only Tuvaluans under 45 years old and with English proficiency are eligible" for the evacuation. Many Tuvaluans don't want to leave their homes anyway, and would rather use the situation to alert the rest of the world to the changes in the environment all over the globe. They may end up suing corporations and countries that seem to be particularly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, especially since the country joined the United Nations in 2000.


When Anton and Eva had sailed off in the direction of Tuvalu, into a sepiatone sunset, I got up, stunned, and asked a fellow audience member

The director... Who is this guy?

Tuvalu is a romantic fantasy, directed by Veit Helmer, who co-wrote it with Michaela Beck. Short, clownish, and socially inept, Anton is the Keatonesque janitor at a swimming pool. The establishment is bankrupt because the ticket seller Martha prefers compensation in the form of buttons. Anton's father Karl is the pool's blind lifeguard, fooled into pompously doing his job every day by a tape recording of splashing swimmers, and his brother Gustav schemes to have the decrepit pool torn down. Eva and her father visit the pool to swim, and for most of the movie the extent of her involvement with Anton consists of him surrepticiously sniffing her panties. A tremendous and practically animate machine that only Karl can operate resides in the basement and somehow runs everything. And of course theres a map, and on it the Pacific island of Tuvalu marked with an X.

Cowed by his Father, Boy meets Girl. Evil Brother turns Girl against Boy but in the end, of course, Boy and Girl set off for paradise together. Its a conventional plot, though exagerrated. However, despite their thoroughly predictable interactions, the characters are still wondrous to watch. Like an archetype in some traditional folk drama wearing a mask to indicate his personality, Karl wears an artificially puffed out chest that extends a foot in front of his body. An Evian commercial incarnate, Eva swims naked with her goldfish. Martha takes gum off of the undersides of benches, chews it up to soften it and uses it for glue. Overacting is rampant, and there is no dialogue- not a sentence, not even two words strung together, though each character does at some point get verbally introduced in a Me Tarzan You Jane fashion. Helmer makes no attept whatsoever at realism, so that the characters can and do utilize convoluted combinations of grunts, mumbles and pantomimes in order to avoid speaking.

As an alternative to narrative fim-making's typical reliance on declaration, Tuvalu assualts its audience with images. This is not to say that The Image is an end into itself ala Buñuel, merely that the cinematographic atmosphere is so perfect, oppressive and intense that it filled my head for hours after leaving the theater. The film was shot in black and white, and later colorized, a technique that evokes old Hollywood, and which also allowed precise control over every detail and emphasis. Each broken tile in the bathhouse is evocative and contributes to a pervasive clautrophobia; Anton seems like an alien for being so at home in such a foreign landscape. Like Brazil's duct motif, here there are pipes and tubes everywhere, as well as a shamelessly convenient network of sewers and canals seemingly connecting the swimming pool to open sea. As a corrolary to that setting, it's always raining, which only intensifies the visceral relief delivered by a dream sequence supersaturated with reverse exposed color. Tuvalu is nothing if not deliberately made- every frame could be a photograph- but it suffers from little of the drag that often plagues films that are labled as "visually stunning". Its a beautiful movie but its also funny, ridiculous, and bizarre.

2000, Kino studios (who'da thunkit)

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