COM-FSM students documenting Nan Madol preservation study

By Denise Oen

The College of Micronesia FSM


January 30, 2019

NanMadol1Pohnpei—The United States Embassy Fund for Historic Preservation awarded a grant to the Cultural Sites Resource Management (CSRM) Foundation to respectfully enhance facilities at the ancient ruins of Nan Madol, which was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The CSRM Foundation “develops, applies, and builds capacity among heritage preservation communities to apply advanced and emerging technologies to research, management, and development at natural and cultural heritage sites and living cultural landscapes.” (Cultural Site Research and Management Foundation)

Several students from COM-FSM are working on a documentary of this project. This opportunity grew from a cross-disciplinary course over the summer in both English and Micronesian History that drew the attention of the US Embassy in Kolonia. The students from the class were awarded a $40,000 grant to buy filming and editing equipment, and to hire professional help for a documentary about CSRM’s project.

The students in the summer course, who continued to meet regularly after the course had ended, collaborated on the budget and decided to again seek the guidance of Dan Lin, their film instructor from the summer course. The equipment was ordered and Dan and his filmmaking partner, Nina Blanco, were hired as consultants.

The young filmmakers had several days with Dan and Nina to do preproduction such as upgrading their skills as filmmakers using new equipment including the GoPro 7 and a drone. They improved their interviewing expertise with the expert guidance of Delihna Ehmes, a sociologist who teaches several course in Micronesian studies at the college. The group created a digital storyboard using their knowledge of Nan Madol as Micronesians but then created updated versions as their narrative intersected with the work of CSRM and as their interactions with stakeholders increased through interviews and community meetings.

The filmmakers spent two days at Nan Madol, one on their own and another with members of the CSRM team. The filmmakers attended and filmed a Sakau ceremony with the Nahmwarki of Madolenihmw to receive his blessing on CSRM’s project before the scientists began their fieldwork. In addition, the students spent two afternoons NanMadol2filming a drone named “Olivia” which carried the Lidar technology that provided the CSRM team with data to create 3D models of the Nan Madol site. This technology fits in well with CSRM’s philosophy to create as little physical disturbance as possible. The filmmakers have held six interviews and attended several community meetings regarding the project. They have become true professionals.

There have been challenges, of course. Making this documentary has required our young filmmakers, who are also students, to be flexible with their time. Faculty at the college have been supportive of students missing the occasional class but it was understood by all that school was the priority and that the students were responsible for the material they missed while in the field. The filmmakers often “tag teamed” with some coming in the morning when they were free and then attending classes in the afternoon while others went to their morning classes and rushed to the shoot after they were finished. Some shoots took place on the weekend and the filmmakers took care of their chores, attended church, and youth group activities before heading out to hold a camera or a microphone for hours on location.

They filmed when it was hot and they filmed in the pouring rain. They carried cameras on top of their heads to wade out to Nan Madol during a king tide. The hiked across coral, swam in the surf, and climbed up hills. They packed camera equipment into vans, small cars, and boats. And then the filmmakers unpacked all the equipment, downloaded the data cards, and readied everything for the next shoot.

Throughout, however, the community has offered lots of support. COM-FSM has been very helpful with resources and expertise: transportation, meals, and technology and media know how. Families have trusted that we would take good care of their children while they were with us. And in the field, the graciousness of the landowners was continual as they offered treats like pancakes, sandwiches, and coconuts just when they were most needed.

And the students themselves are a family and they supported each other in so many ways by providing rides, sharing snacks in the van (orange slices with chili and kool aid!), and writing encouraging words on the group chat and our Facebook page.

As an educator who specializes in curriculum and instruction, I am always asking myself about the learning that is taking place in any experience especially those considered “educational.” Over the course of the last few weeks, I have observed our filmmakers solve problems effectively, synthesize information quickly, and incorporate new concepts and vocabulary learned in the field into their academic work. I have also seen them become more confident as they interacted with community leaders and scientists on a personal level. They have truly become filmmakers with a passion for using their voices as Micronesians to tell the story of this particular moment in the history of Nan Madol.

There is a public Facebook group to follow the adventures of these talented students at Filming Our Journey’s: History of Micronesia to Contemporary Island Topics. Please also feel free to reach out to Dr. Denise Oen, Director of the Institute of Student Learning and Excellence, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

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