A local group is filming its way through the Marianas to inspire deeper connections across the islands, and invites residents to attend a holiday concert to support the effort.

“We’re creating a film project documenting journeys and performances of musicians and cultural practitioners throughout the Marianas archipelago,” said Tåhdong Marianas project director Samantha Barnett. “It stems from this need to strengthen our connection throughout the archipelago, and thinking about our ancestors in the past, who traveled throughout the islands.”

“There’s so many barriers between us, both politically, and even in terms of the costs of flights between the islands. It can be really inaccessible, like for a lot of CHamorus it’s easier to go to Hawaii or California than it is to go to Luta, or Tinian, which is really heartbreaking,” she said. “So we wanted to think about storytelling as a way to navigate back to our ancestors’ understanding of what it means to be CHamoru, in the Marianas, what it means to come from these homelands, and really just strengthen our connection to each other.”

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Tåhdong Marianas is a collective of CHamoru artists, activists, scholars and filmmakers. Their film project, once complete, will be a series of episodes featuring interviews and performances with various musicians, artists and cultural practitioners, like carvers and weavers, from throughout the Marianas.

“The majority of interviews were conducted in CHamoru, so there’ll be English and CHamoru subtitles on the videos,” Barnett said. “So it’s also kind of a language revitalization project.”

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Barnett, along with co-director Andrew Gumataotao, director of photography Aaron Santos and producer Lawrence Lizama, spent November in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands collecting stories and film. They begin the Guam portion of the project next month, and have about 10 people in mind to highlight the island’s talent, Barnett said.

“I think we’re at such a pivotal point in our history,” she said. “As we’re attempting to navigate forward, obviously dealing with these really strange circumstances with the pandemic, the mounting militarism in the region as well, we really just need to return to our ability to connect with each other across the islands.”

It’s also about capturing the culture and perpetuating it for generations to come.

“To keep up these cultural practices, to pick up learning CHamoru, it’s really urgent for us,” she said.

Local group Tåhdong Marianas is hosting a virtual concert on Dec. 30 to help raise funds for its film project. Tickets are $25, and doors open at 7 p.m. Featured artists include Johnny Sablan and Patrick Palomo.
Virtual concert fundraiser
The largest hurdle has been funding. The team received grants from Humanities Guåhan, the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, as well as support from local nonprofit Nihi and community members who donated.

Now, the group is hosting a virtual concert Dec. 30 to help raise funds for the effort.

“It’s a really amazing lineup of local artists and musicians: Johnny Sablan, Patrick Palomo, Gilayna and Jonah, ranging from these classic musicians that we all grew up hearing, and younger people who are coming up in our community,” Barnett said. “We’re also going to show a preview of our film project so far, so people can see a little bit of what we’ve been working on.”

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“All proceeds go toward the cost of production, as well as a team of CHamoru language speakers and experts to translate and transcribe the interviews so we can add subtitles on each of the videos,” she said.

Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased at https://bit.ly/3848246. Virtual doors open at 7 p.m.

“People should come, it’s just a really amazing event,” Barnett said. “Especially with how hard this year has been for our community. I think it’s really beautiful to come together about something exciting, something that is celebrating our people.”

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