HIFF Review: ‘The Land of Eb’
REVIEW BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser
In the Bible, Jacob was the plain, upright brother who worked hard and took care of the extended family, was bedeviled by circumstance and wandered in exile before settling down. It cannot be coincidence that the hero of “The Land of Eb” is also named Jacob.
‘The Land of Eb’
Halekulani Golden Orchid Award: Narrative Feature Nominee
United States Premiere
Jacob is pretty much what you’d call a solid citizen, a hardworking family man who’s struggling to achieve the American dream. But there are obstacles. He’s part of the nascent Marshallese community gaining a toehold on the Big Island’s coffee-growing Kona coast, so he has that immigrant baggage. He’s obviously bright and can do just about anything, but his command of English is limited and that not only corrals his options, it allows smoothtalkers to take advantage of him. But the third strike comes out of nowhere — a tumor that will likely strike him down.
Jacob decides to keep his malady secret to spare his family. He frantically tries to earn enough money to pay off his property so that his children will not be homeless …
Homelessness gnaws at the edges of “The Land of Eb.” The Marshallese aren’t just immigrants, they’re refugees, driven away from their home islands by American nuclear testing. Jacob’s tumor might be wrought by God, but it may also be a legacy of nuclear radiation.
None of this is a strident shout-out by the film, which is quiet and reflective and more of a character study than a polemic. “The Land of Eb” — the title refers to a kind of mythical Marshallese notion of heaven — is extraordinary on almost every level. It is directed with cool authority by Andrew Williamson, who contributed to the screenplay by John Hill. Josh Harmsworth lensed it on the Canon 7D high-end digital video system, and the images have the lush range of traditional film. Although the actors are nonprofessionals drawn from the Marshallese community, Williamson performs the near-impossible feat of striking only pure notes from their performances.
It’s also a rare film that celebrates the dignity of hard work, as well as the tenuous connections of cultural legacy in a fragmented community.
At the heart of it all is Jonithen Jackson’s subtle, heartfelt performance as Jacob. This is the sort of quiet, overlooked guy who mows your yard for a couple of bucks, who will never be rich, but is, nonetheless, a bedrock of the community and a measure of what makes America work. This guy is solidly in the 47 percent.
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