‘Kirisimasi’ is a documentary film that tells the story of the Fijian nuclear veterans who participated in Britain’s nuclear testing program at Christmas Island and Malden Island in the 1950s.
In the 1950s, hundreds of Fijian soldiers and sailors were involved in Britain’s nuclear test program in the central Pacific, codenamed Operation Grapple. They witnessed nine atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between May 1957 and September 1958 at Christmas (Kiritimati) Island and Malden Island in the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony (today, part of the independent nation of Kiribati). Thousands of British military personnel, together with 524 New Zealand sailors and more than 260 Fijian soldiers and sailors, travelled to the central Pacific to participate in this testing program. Today, many suffer from health impacts that they attribute to exposure to hazardous levels of ionising radiation.
Despite a decade-long legal struggle and recent medical research highlighting genetic impacts, the UK Ministry of Defence refuses to acknowledge that any veterans’ health was affected.
Working with the Fiji Nuclear Veterans Association and a team of Fijian filmmakers, Nic and Torika are making a one hour documentary film about the history of the nuclear tests in 1957-58, letting Fiji’s surviving nuclear veterans tell their tale and describe the challenges they face today.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the tests in 2017, the film will include;
- interviews with Fijian veterans;
- interviews with the families of Fijian veterans;
- interviews with key Fijian historians, activists and academics;
- archival footage from Fijian media sources and the Imperial War Museum;
- military archival and vernacular photographs from the 1950s.
Your donations will help us bring this often untold story to the screen and we hope the film will support the veterans’ ongoing campaign for recognition and compensation from the UK government.
Why we need to make this film
There is little international awareness of the British nuclear test program in the Pacific islands – Christmas Island is less well-known than Maralinga, Moruroa or Bikini – and even less knowledge about Fiji’s role in the Grapple tests. While there has been some recent news reporting about the experience of British and New Zealand nuclear veterans, there is no current film that draws together the stories of the Fiji veterans, their ongoing campaign for compensation or the day-to-day lived experience of their ongoing health issues – personally and those of their immediate family.
For a decade from the mid-1990s, the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC) in Suva supported the Fiji veterans, through media outreach, campaigning and lobbying. This was highlighted by the 1999 publication of the book ‘Kirisimasi’, the first oral history of the Fiji veterans, published in Fijian and English. The book is now out of print (although co-author Nic Maclellan is currently researching a new book on Grapple, which will complement the documentary). Artists like Torika Bolatagici and Mohini Chandra and Christopher Stewart have addressed the nuclear tests in the Pacific in various artworks which have reached a different audience – and been discussed at artist talks/symposia. Torika’s work about the Fijian nuclear veterans has been published in Art Monthly Australia (2010) and exhibited in the Asia Pacific Triennial (2012) at Queensland Art Gallery – Gallery of Modern Art (QAG GOMA).
From 2004-2013, the veterans were involved in a long-running but unsuccessful legal challenge in the UK. With the 2015 decision by the government of Fiji to support their cause, it is timely to once again bring the story to international attention. A documentary film will enable a new audience to engage with the story of the veterans and ensure that their legacy continues, in a way that ephemeral (radio) and existing (print) media do not. Given the age of the surviving veterans, it is also important to document their story for future generations – a film will best capture the spirit of their long-running campaign for recognition, capturing the human impact of the nuclear era.
Nic Maclellan – Co-Producer
Nic works as a journalist and researcher in the Pacific islands, who has written widely on issues of environment, development and demilitarisation in the islands region. He has lived and worked in Fiji and published numerous articles and books on the nuclear history of the Pacific. Nic is co-author, with Losena Salabula and Josua Namoce, of an oral history of Fiji’s nuclear veterans: Kirisimasi – Na Sotia kei na Lewe ni Mataivalu e Wai ni Viti e na vakatovotovo iyaragi nei Peritania mai Kirisimasi (PCRC, Suva, 1999).
Nic was the recipient of the 2015 Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) Contribution to the Sector Award: “Mr Maclellan has enriched ACFID and the membership for many decades with his signature style – always drawing the membership back to the voice and agency of Pacific Islanders,” ACFID Executive Director Marc Purcell said. “For more than three decades, Mr Maclellan has lived and worked in the Pacific islands region and conducted research and undertaken advocacy on Pacific environment, human rights and development issues.
“Mr Maclellan has a sincere commitment to gender equality, a sharp political edge and a knack of linking the local and personal to the global sweep of events. He moves between the worlds of journalism, academia, advocacy and development practice seamlessly, enriching and linking each domain. Mr Maclellan is a correspondent for the Islands Business magazine (Fiji), and a contributor to The Guardian, Inside Story, The Contemporary Pacific, and other regional media” Mr Purcell said. (Source: ACFID Media Release)
Read more of Nic’s work here:
Torika Bolatagici – Co-Producer
Torika Bolatagici was born in Tasmania and spent her early years living between Hobart, Sydney and her father’s village – Suvavou, Fiji. Torika works across a range of media, including photography, video and mixed media site-specific installation. Her interdisciplinary practice investigates the relationship between visual culture, human ecology, postcolonial counternarrative and the visual historiography of the black body. She is interested in exploring the tensions and intersections between gender, embodied knowledge, commodification, migration and globalization. Her PhD ‘Somatic Sotia: Commodity, Agency and the Fijian Military Body’ was recently submitted for examination at the School of Art and Design, University of New South Wales. Torika is a lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University.
Torika is the recipient of numerous Australia Council grants, including Skills and Development (2010); New Work Early Career (2012); Community Partnerships (2014); and Development Grants Individual and Groups (2016). Her work has been exhibited in New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Yogyakarta and throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, including the 7th Asia Pacific Triennial in 2012. As well as 12 years experience teaching at tertiary level, Torika also has also facilitated youth arts workshops for the local Pacific community. Including the Pacific Photobook Project (2014-15) and the Community Reading Room – a pop-up destination for research, community discussion and engagement around international visual arts and culture, with a particular focus on contemporary art and theory from Oceania, Africa and the Americas. In her role as Symposium coordinator for the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival in 2013 and 2014, Torika curated multiple panels to extend the discourse around contemporary Pacific arts practice in Australia and invited speakers to reflect on themes such as art and activism, museums, collecting and curating, cultural appropriation and contemporary practice.
“What strikes one about Bolatagici’s work as an artist, and as an emerging and highly engaged Pacific voice in art world academia, is her take on the big picture…[i]n drawing out the focus of her work and undermining the seamless layers of commodification, Bolatagici humanises and subverts the bigger stage of war, global capitalism and racism. It is fundamentally the value and nature of ‘our air’, ‘our water’ and ‘our’ thinking that she brings to light.” Maurice O’Riodran, ‘Torika Bolatagici and the Big Picture’, Art Monthly Australia, #232, August 2010, p.67
How The Funds Will Be Used
With the endorsement of the Fiji Nuclear Veterans Association, we plan to commence filming in Fiji in November 2016, with a local film crew.
Your generous contribution will be split between:
2. Camera operator
3. Sound recordist
5. Travel within Fiji
Any excess funds will go towards the post-production;
- Sound mixer
- Title design
- Colour grading
With a tight timeline, our production relies on support from the Fijian film crew. In April 2016, we spent a week in Suva meeting with local filmmakers, members of the Fijian Nuclear Veterans Association and other stakeholders who have all confirmed their commitment to the project, so although the timeline is short, we have all the people in place to begin filming in November.
We hope to capture the veterans’ meeting in November 2016, on Fiji Remembrance Day, so we have a fixed timeline for shooting. With many of the veterans in their 80s, we also need to travel within Fiji to meet with them in their homes and villages.