Rock Bottom Riser

Director Fern Silva / 2021 / USA

Erupting with unforgettable images of Hawaii, this boundary-breaking essay film captures the splendour and turbulent colonial history of the island nation.

Opening with one of the year’s most breathtaking shots – primordial lava erupting from the volcano Kilauea, seen from high above – and presenting a stunning mosaic of environmental and human imagery, the feature debut of Portuguese-American filmmaker Fern Silva (Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder, MIFF 2017) examines the volatile relationship between man and nature in the Pacific archipelago of Hawaii.

Awarded a Special Mention in the Berlinale’s Encounters strand, this visually arresting film blends documentary, fiction and animation as it explores astronomy, island culture and the impact of colonisation on Hawaii: from early seafarers and Christian missionaries to Hollywood productions and plans for an enormous telescope on Indigenous soil. Along the way, Silva uses sublime, unforgettable slow-motion images – fiery wormholes, a river of lava, celestial skies – as well as eclectic detours into stunt vaping and the world of Simon & Garfunkel to highlight the relationship between Hawaiians, their land and the universe. Rock Bottom Riser is a cinematic tour de force that lets its beauty do the talking.

“A psychedelic ode to the Hawaiian Islands … Silva approaches an idyllic yet troubled archipelago with a cosmically open-minded humanism.” – Slant

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