Hailing from the Marshall Islands and directed and produced by Jack Niedenthal and Suzanne Chutaro, The Sound of Crickets at Night, is part folk tale, part history lesson and part spiritual parable about an elderly nuclear survivor from Bikini Atoll summons a mysterious ancient deity to help reunite his family.
The story starts with a pair of young girls looking on as their parents scream at each other one night. They wonder if their father will hit their mother again and soon wander over to where their grandfather is sitting outside to question him about life and relationships. He replies by telling them the story of his youth when he lived in Bikini Atoll – Between 1946 and 1958, twenty-three nuclear devices were detonated by the United States at Bikini Atoll, beginning with the Operation Crossroads series in July 1946. Preceding the nuclear tests, the indigenous population was relocated to Rongerik Atoll, though during the Castle Bravo detonation in particular some members of the population were exposed to nuclear fallout. The old man is saddened by the fact that when he dies, he will not be able to be buried on his home island.
The next day, the girls’ parents tell them that they will be moving – at least one of them will. While their father goes off to work on another island, their mother takes the younger sister with her to Arkansas, leaving the eldest, Kali with her grandfather. Kali sinks into a deep depression at the loss of her family, made worse by the abuse and ridicule of the other island children. Seeing this, her grandfather tries everything in his power to make things better for her, including using a magical potion that brings forth what I believe is an ancient spirit of sorts (as with most foreign films a few things were lost in translation). The spirit arrives in the form of an amnesiac American whom Kali finds and charmingly enough names “George Bush” because “she learned about George Bush in school”. What follows involves Mr. Bush reassuring the now ailing grandfather that all will be okay while also reassuring Kali that life will turn out well all while being tracked down by a merciless (and equally hilarious) Australian woman who is convinced he stole $3000 from her.
It’s a charming if somewhat sad tale and considering that I believe most of the people in this film were locals with no prior acting experience, it’s very well done. It’s an extremely lo-budget film so it does have its moments of slightly cheesy effects but overall for what’s being worked with, it’s pretty amazing. It’s already won a handful of awards at the Moondance International Film Festival, the Guam-USA International Film Festival and the Hawaii International Film Festival just to name a few.
The setting is beautiful if impoverished and Kali in particular is a charming and affable character, one whose heartbreak I never doubted. As the first film I’ve seen from the Marshall Islands, I give it high marks both for the impact it makes as a narrative and its use of a history that’s quickly falling towards the way of “myth”.
To learn more about The Sound of Crickets at Night, you can visit their website.