Rock Bottom Riser
As lava continues to flow from the earth’s core on the island of Hawaii – posing an imminent danger – a crisis mounts. Astronomers plan to build the world’s largest telescope on Hawaii’s most sacred and revered mountain, Mauna Kea. Based on ancient Polynesian navigation, the arrival of Christian missionaries and the observatory’s ability to capture the origins of the universe, a survey about the influence of settler colonialism, the search for intelligent life, and the discovery of new worlds as we peer into our own planet’s existence.
Not a trace of Bill Callahan on the soundtrack of Rock Bottom Riser, even though Fern Silva has borrowed the title of one of his songs for his first feature-length film, where fumes, smoke, eruptions and other pyroclastic phenomena hold a dominant place. Instead, we hear Simon and Garfunkel sing the refrain – “I am a rock, I am an island” – which the film then seems to make its own. A facetious refrain, for while no man is an island, no island could deny its relationships of interdependence: knowledge of these relationships is precisely what defines insular intelligence. It is the complex tangle of these relationships that attracts Fern Silva to Hawaii, just when a 30-metre telescope, produced by international cooperation for an astronomical sum of money, is about to be installed on the sacred Mauna Kea mountain. The project encounters strong local opposition, which has found a spokesman in actor Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), who is likely already trying on the costume of King Kamehameha, whose role he is preparing to play in Robert Zemeckis’ future film. The whole film is like an extraordinary palimpsest of the situation. Drawing on the ancestral knowledge of Polynesian navigation, the story of evangelising missions, the observatory’s search for alien intelligence and other inhabitable planets while a mantle of lava still threatens to cover the populated plains, Rock Bottom Riser explores Hawaii’s syncretism and the influence of a colonialism revived by science, under a continuous flow that transforms its different fragments into a single red-glowing jewel.
Fern Silva (1982 USA/Portugal) is an artist who began working as a film editor and cameraperson in NYC. His early films revolved around his relationship to Portugal and have since expanded, underlining the global influence of industry on culture and the environment. For over a decade, his 16mm films have been screened widely in festivals, museums, and cinematheques. They’ve been awarded prizes from the Images Festival (Jury Award), Ann Arbor Film Festival (Gus Van Sant Award), 25FPS Festival (Grand Prix), and most recently, the Agora Post-Production Award from the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. His work has been featured in publications including Cinema Scope, Filmmaker Magazine, and Film Comment. He has taught filmmaking at various institutions including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bard College, and Bennington College. He studied film at the Massachusetts College of Art and Bard College and is a fellow at the Film Study Center at Harvard University.