Stunning documentary, “Island Soldier” has its first screening in the FSM

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

April 4, 2018

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Pohnpei—The highly anticipated first screening of the documentary “Island Soldier” took place at the Pohnpei Center Cinemas this afternoon with the support of the US Embassy to the FSM in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the College of Micronesia FSM.  Pohnpei Center Cinemas has three theaters.  The documentary was displayed in all three of the theaters.  Each was full to above capacity.

Writer, producer, and videographer Nathan Fitch served as a US Peace Corps volunteer for two years and also lived in Pohnpei for six months.  He said during the question and answer session after the screening that it was because of the relationships and trust he established during that time that he was allowed access to do the documentary. 

He said that when he returned to his home in New York he found it a bit difficult to readjust to the completely different life there, the life he’d grown up with.  Micronesia had inexorably changed him as it has a tendency to do for those who let it.  He found that most people in the US had never heard of the FSM. Worse, when he tried to tell them about his experiences here they didn’t seem to care.  He said that in some ways, “Island Soldier” was an excuse to come back to the FSM, but it was also an attempt to perhaps make them care.

The documentary ultimately went in a direction that he didn’t initially intend.  He had set out to educate people about the fact that under the Compact of Free Association with the United States, people in the FSM can serve in the US military.  On a per capita basis, more people in the FSM choose to enlist than do in the United States.  He wanted to explore the various motivations for enlistment that range from the problem of high unemployment and low wages through to a feeling of thankfulness to the US for liberating the FSM at the end of World War II, ultimately leading to the establishment of a new sovereign nation.

Credit Floyd K Takeuchi Waka Photos

But a clear subtext developed that needed to be explored. That subtext became just as important, if not more important, than the film maker’s original intention.  Early on in the project it became quite clear that many of the after service benefits provided to soldiers who are from the US are simply not available to soldiers from the FSM who return home and that story needed to be told.

Fitch beautifully crafted his documentary both in terms of its stellar cinematography and the shaping of the story which is set in Kosrae, Afghanistan, and on several military bases in the US.  The documentary has been screened in several settings in the US mainland and Hawaii. Importantly, it was screened at the US State Department and at the US Department of the Interior where its message resonated and has sparked conversation in high places.

During the lively question and answer period after the Pohnpei screening, US Ambassador Robert Riley said that the issue of veterans’ benefits has long been known and the plight of FSM soldiers in that regard has long been argued.  One difficulty is that fixing the problem takes an act of Congress.  But he said that at the least, “Island Soldier” has put the dialog into high places and has stirred more conversation on the matter.