The Seychelle Islands sit alone in the vast Indian Ocean and are the geological fragments of the super-continent that produced the Americas, Africa, Australia, Antarctica and India. As if by some ironical metaphor, it is in these unique, Edenesque, scattered remnants of the past that we find a microcosm of our own contemporary continental problems. The Seychelles people are faced with tough choices concerning economic development versus conservation, global capitalism versus national regulation, and a western style of life versus their own. And smack in the middle of all those forces was Brendon Grimshaw, an 83-year-old man from Dewsbury, England.
Brendon Grimshaw was a successful newspaper editor who decided to buy an island... Not so that he could brag to his rich friends, but because he was tired of the rat race, loved nature, and was ready to try something radically different with his life. So at the ripe age of 49, when most mortals are thinking retirement, he traded in the drive to work, the office, the responsibility, and the success, for a primitive life of uncertainty on Moyenne Island, which he purchased in 1964 for 10,000 British Pounds. He moved to the island in 1973 and has been on it ever since.
But the amazing part of this story isn’t the Robinson Crusoe headline. Beneath that bold print is the tale of a man who has unknowingly become a symbol for something far greater, far more relevant. Since his arrival on the island, Brendon and his closest friend Renee Lafortune, completely restored the island’s habitat, planting over 16,000 trees, palms and shrubs. They also brought and bred 111 free-roaming giant Aldabra tortoises, and thousands of wild birds. Despite Brendon’s unconventional approaches to ecology, his island now holds more than 2/3 of all endemic plants to the Seychelles and has become a symbol of conservation. But in the year 2007, the future of Moyenne Island was uncertain and making headlines, as development plans for private resorts worth hundreds of millions of dollars surrounded him on every neighboring island. Brendon was offered 50 million dollars for his island in 2005 by a Saudi prince, but said no. His only dying wish was that Moyenne Island be accessible to everyone, not just millionaires on vacation.
the "making of"
Chance & Fate
Are Often Confused
Who can speak to all the factors that lead to any one event? One thing is certain, however, I began this project with no experience in documentary filmmaking when chance, or fate, blew in on a Spanish Sunday on the island of Tenerife. There, reading the morning newspaper was the article that introduced me to Brendon Grimshaw and that would change my life forever.
The Island As A Microcosm
I immediately knew I wanted to do something with Brendon’s story. It appealed to me on so many levels, as I saw Moyenne Island as a beautiful and intricate metaphor of our times, sitting as both a testament to the greatness of humans, and as a microcosm of the dangers we all face in a voracious global economy that seems to have assigned a price to everything. It was a beautiful metaphor veiled in the historical mystique surrounding the recurrent individual and cultural desire to return to nature and be in relationship with more-than-human ecologies.
The Beauty Of Purpose
There is a moment in the documentary when Brendon explains that it would be easy for him to sell the island and live a life of luxury for his remaining years. But this idea simply doesn’t appeal to him because he really enjoys his life on the island and realizes there is a greater purpose to all the work he has accomplished. This summarizes perfectly the way I feel about this project, my first documentary. We had very little money to make this film, $50,000 dollars to be exact, and no one was paid for their collaboration. Instead, we offered ourselves the opportunity to work on something we considered to have purpose and beauty, in the hope that we would sell the project when it was finished and pay everyone for the fruits of their labor. But we learned to value other ideas in the process of making this film and decided to release the documentary and Brendon’s life story to the world for free, because if this world is going to resemble anything that even remotely honors the choices of humans like Brendon Grimshaw, not everything can be about money.
On Moyenne Island, Brendon found his love for nature, as I found my love for filmmaking. Many people would have you believe that the frameworks that govern us, by which we must all supposedly live, are immutable and all-powerful. I have learned through the making of this film and the life of Brendon Grimshaw that this is just not the case. When people come together to plant trees, make a film, or engage the face of politics and power, you’d be surprised at what can be accomplished.
Brendon’s struggle motivated me to try and use this documentary as a tool for political action. Using the filmmaking process as a bridge in the creation of dialogue and understanding, we approached the Seychelles government in the spring of 2008. I sat down with Jean-Paul Adam, advisor to then President James Michel, and we discussed the possibilities of providing both the documentary and Brendon Grimshaw’s life with a happy ending...
In June 2008, I received a phone call informing me that the government had agreed. I sat with Brendon Grimshaw on his porch and felt so much joy and emotion in telling him that his long struggle to secure the future of his island after his death had ended. If he agreed, Moyenne Island would become Moyenne Island National Park, the smallest national park in the world. We cried together, shared some scotch, and celebrated. That is one of my last memories of Brendon. He died in 2012, at the age of 87, and is happily buried beside his father and two pirates, where he can be visited by all capable of making the long journey.