Residences on the French Polynesian Island of Tureia shout Vive La France in jest. The are not saying it wishing the best for the Fatherland but instead sarcastically given all the broken promises fed to them from the French government dating back to a 1966 speech by Charles de Gaulle where he promised that the arrival of the French Army to nearby Mururoa to be good for the Polynesians and signal the start of new prosperity for the residents or a magnificent future as de Gaulle put it himself.
Directors Helgi Felixon and Titti Johnson look at the consequences of the French arriving to commence atomic testing in the mid sixties and the effect on the islands and the residence that is still evident today. The film opens with Kua and Teariki commenting on how where they live is a simple paradise. They are planning to get married but have some concurs about the health of their young son. The population of the island is 320 they fish, collect coconuts and live off the land. In the opening sequence Teariki is riding a bike beside the bed of a pick up. He has one had on the truck while his other is outstretched as the island breeze passes over him. It's as if he is flying with not a care in the world.
Between 1966 and 1996 the French government conducted 193 nuclear tests in Polynesia. Researcher Bruno Barrillot comments that Tureia has witnessed 39 fallouts. It's not just a one time occurrence. Each fallout takes about 7 days to clear the area so the 39 fallouts can be multiplied by 7. The radiation from which goes into the water, rain, soil, vegetation, algae, animals and fruit that the Islanders consume. The neighbouring island Muroroawhere some of Tureia's older generation were born is off limits to the Islanders. It is the location of the French Military base leaving the residents reliant on the French's word that its' O.K.
Another scientist Roland Desborde from Criirad sees the situation as worse. Each atmospheric test creates a plume at 10-15,000 feet. Accurately pinpointing how long it takes to leave the area is a difficult task. The conversation turns grim as Barrillot tours the village asking different households the status of their relatives. He receives a lot of responses that brothers, Aunts and parents are dead or deceased. He also gets a laundry list of cancers suffered by the Island inhabitants. Maro,Teariki's father who has just had throat surgery comments that no one new of cancer at all before the French military arrived in 1965 then within a couple of years the residents started to develop tumours.
The French government were able to do their testing in Polynesia because it was a French protectorate and not an independent country. The French Administrator still comes once a year to advise of the budget for the Island. The first independent sign of a problem came from the Americans when on the island they checked the children teeth to find high levels of radiation exposure. After the findings they switched to underwater testing that has left a legacy of a weakened Mururoa Atoll that could collapse and lead to a radioactive tsunami with Tureia directly it's path 100 kilometres away .
Felixon & Johnson's production does what a documentary is supposed to do. Present information about a topic that may not be in the public eye to spark conversation, debate and hopefully action. As one scientist puts it Nuclear testing is a crime committed in the present with ramifications well into the future. There is 2 to 3 tonnes of plutonium in the area, two meter cracks are visible from the shot in Mururoa's reef and it will take multiple thousands of years for the area to be completely free of nuclear waste. However as Kua and Teariki continue to move towards their wedding on Tureia the resilient Islanders show that life still goes on.
*** 1/2 Out of 4
Vive La France | Helgi Felixon & Titti Johnson | French Polynesia / France \ Sweden / Norway, Iceland / Finland | 2014 | 82 Minutes.
Tags: Documentary, Tahiti, Charles de Gaulle, Nuclear Testing, Cancer, Crime, Protectorate.