Save The Waves Coalition’s new film, Lost Jewel of the Atlantic, premiered at the Santa Cruz Film Festival on Monday, May 8, 2006, to a surf-stoked audience, but not a lot of local political controversy. But in today’s world, news travels fast. Unbeknownst to the film’s producers, headlines appeared in newspapers on the island of Madeira the following day, one reading “Movie Documents the Fight to Save the Surf from Eager Investors and a Corrupt Government.”
The news report evoked angry reactions from many of Madeira’s political leaders, who promised to “judicially prosecute” those responsible for producing the film “as criminals.” Manuel Santos Costas, spokesman for the Cabinet of Madeiran President Alberto Joao Jardim, promised to take “adequate steps to defend the honor and good name of the region, its population, and its President.”
Save The Waves director Will Henry reacted calmly to the threats. “Let them send over a team of lawyers and see how far they get in our courts,” he replied. “There’s something called freedom of speech in this country, and I seem to remember it also exists in Europe.”
The reaction of Madeira’s leadership only reinforces one of the central themes of the film, which is the atmosphere of government intimidation of the local population on the island, and President Jardim’s hot temper and excessive control of government policy. The film documents the fight to save Madeira’s coastline from poorly planned development proposals, many of which destroyed or damaged some of Europe’s best surf spots. Save The Waves organized numerous protests on the island to argue for more carefully planned coastal development, which were attended by hundreds of Madeiran citizens. In 2003, responding to the protests, President Jardim called the protesters “fake environmentalists and economy saboteurs, who support a barefoot kind of tourism like the one that is brought in by the surfers in Jardim do Mar. Go surf somewhere else.”
The construction projects in Madeira were partly funded by grants from the European Union, and the film argues that they violated the environmental guidelines that were required for the use of the money. Many people in Madeira agree. Nonetheless, the film’s producers attempted to show both sides of the story. “We tried to stay true to a documentary’s purpose, which is to show all sides of the argument,” said Henry. “We even allowed ample opportunity for the government to state their opinion, even though it runs contrary to what we believe personally.”
Lost Jewel of the Atlantic will continue to screen in its worldwide tour, despite the threats of legal action against it. “Frankly, we welcome the added publicity,” stated Henry. “The more ranting they do, the more they reinforce our side of argument.”
To read more about the film, click here. To view the trailer, click here.
Image: Ponta Delgada, Maderia before and after the sea wall construction.