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At first glance, the leeward side of the Haleakalā volcano on the island of Maui appears to be little more than a vast rocky lava field. But this wasn’t always the case. A hundred years ago, this tropical dry forest area, Auwahi, was one of the richest and most biodiverse stretches of land on the Hawaiian islands – its trees and plants endlessly valuable to Native Hawaiians. But over the past century, unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing by non-native species and wildfires have dramatically reduced Auwahi’s size and biodiversity.
The documentary Ola Ka Honua (2023) tracks the work of the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project, which aims to preserve, revitalise and expand the endangered forest. With its title translating to ‘the Earth lives’, the film explores the connection between the land and the residents and visitors who have volunteered to restore it. Using gorgeous 3D and rotoscope animation, the filmmaker Jilli Rose, based in Australia, illustrates what Auwahi once was, and what it may become again someday thanks to this ongoing community-driven initiative. In doing so, she and her subjects hint at the potential for similar grassroots ecosystem restoration efforts worldwide.
Director: Jilli Rose
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