Rock Bottom Riser is an experimental documentary that casts viewers on a psychedelic tour of Hawaii

This experimental documentary takes viewers on a psychedelic tour of Hawaii, exploring the tension between scientific inquiry and Indigenous preservation.

Fern Silva’s debut feature “Rock Bottom Riser,” an experimental documentary that explores humans’ relationship to nature in Hawaii, brings awareness to how the planned construction of a 30-meter telescope on Mauna Kea, the archipelago’s most sacred mountain, could have damaging effects on Indigenous communities.

The film is a psychedelic tour of the islands, jumping from image to image and interweaving voice-overs or scenes with lectures on the cosmology, astronomy, history and science of Hawaii. Through some of its images and narration, it urges viewers to consider the ways in which science can be a colonizing force, further marginalizing native Hawaiians and their traditional modes of inquiry while helping to criminalize their dissent. In one scene, an unidentified narrator says that attempts by Indigenous people to guard the mountain have been reported as “threatening violent acts” by astronomers, leading to police intervention.

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The film is sometimes hard to follow, because the connection between the images and the voice-overs is not always clear. But taken as a whole, “Rock Bottom Riser” leaves viewers with a strong sense of how native Hawaiians view themselves and their future, and encourages inquiry into how their land might be preserved.

Silva presents a Hawaii likely unfamiliar to tourists, relying not on beach landscapes but on volcanic lava, mountainscapes and dense forests. Viewers can hear a car rev offscreen while palm trees swing at sunset. Elsewhere, two men fill a smoke shop with oversized Os created with the smoke from their vapes. Silva jumps from the cosmos, to a surfer catching a wave, to historical documents and equations. These visuals, which sometimes clash, show humans’ tenuous relationship with nature.

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