30 Minutes With the Filmmakers of the Documentary, “Power of Pearl”
30 Minutes With
A Conversation with the Filmmakers of
“Power of Pearl”
During the preview screening of the documentary “Power of Pearl” presented by Jewelmer in the Philippines, GRID had a chance to sit down with the team to talk about the film and how the process of making it has left a lasting impact on them both as filmmakers and humans.
For the last eight years, filmmakers Ahbra Perry and Taylor Higgins have journeyed around the world to various pearl farms. Their documentary film, Power of Pearl, follows a handful of pearl farms in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia, and tells the story of the relationship between the farmers and the communities.
These pearl farms are vulnerable to severe weather conditions and its farmers have had to take on the responsibility of policing the seas. The farms are self-sustaining communities wherein the people are intuitively connected with the environment in order to survive.
The filmmakers use a combination of underwater, aerial, slow-motion, and vérité footage to transport the viewer into a real-life 90-120 minute story. The film ultimately aims to inform a universal audience, whilst allowing them to connect with an intimate story of courage and passion amidst adversity — a reminder of humanity.
GRID: Could you tell us more about your experience of filming in the Philippines?
AHBRA PERRY: We were young when we started… A pearl is a time capsule, right, of the ocean? It’s going to tell you everything that was wrong with the planet and whether any kind of wrong touch to the shell is going to be reflected on the surface of the pearl. So, this film was our time capsule. And it was much harder going back, and as we went through time through all the footage, seeing what we’ve done and how we’ve grown, you know, we thought we were done and then typhoon Haiyan… And immediately, Taylor and I were on the phone with Jacques [Branellec] and were like, “We have to come, what should we do, who should we bring?” And probably, we’re going to take three more years to finish this film now.
GRID: Were you in the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan hit?
AP: We were here two, three days afterwards? So, we went to the farm that was closest to Coron and they gave us whatever they had, [we] slept on the floor—the most incredible thing is that these people shared everything with us and we felt so honored and so moved that both of us were like, “We have to make this happen, we have to promise to these people that we’re going to share everything that they do because how the Philippines rebounds from a disaster like that was vastly different from what we experienced in America.”
TAYLOR HIGGINS: Yeah. For us, we started this film when we were in our early twenties. So, this was a coming-of-age for us, sort of growing with this film and being inspired by the work that is done in these pearl farms in Palawan. This is part of the film. There’s three countries in the film but in regards to this film, this section of the film is what really took our hearts. This is why we continued with everything else. Really, the core of the film exists in the Philippines, which is important because we both feel that now we’re in our thirties, that this was important enough to not only follow through with this but have this be the standard that not only individuals should have but businesses should have, policymakers should have, going into the future. It kept evolving, but we started to understand it three, four, five, six, seven years, to a degree where it really took hold. What you see on the screen is the product.
AP: But if you’re asking if it was hard—you are both writers, you’ll do anything to make your dream happen. For us, we just had set our dream kinda big and, at some point, we sold his car, we did anything, like—anything we could possibly do to keep working on this film. I believe strongly that it will pay off, at least giving people some closure and some semblance of forward motion.
GRID: At what point did you figure out that the Philippines would be a good anchor for this story?
ALEX CIRILLO: I think that form the beginning, the Philippines was always the anchor for this story. I think that there is a visual spirit that you get here, and there’s an emotional spirit that you get here, that are a filmmaker’s and storyteller’s dream. I mean, you can’t write this. After typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, it was just everything they’ve been warning us about. And now we have the visuals to show it.
GRID: At what point in your editing process did you realize that maybe the footage that was done in the Philippines was the anchor piece to the story?
AP: Taylor was the one pushing the buttons. He was the editor. When Danny and I came on, it was valuable for us to be an outside eye ’cause they spent all this time with all these people. And they built these close bonds and we were able to look at it from a perspective of people who don’t already know these people personally to help them figure out what an audience would connect with. And I think with the typhoon happening here, and the way that everybody here was so open and so friendly, it was clear—pretty quickly—that their story was going to be the anchor for the film because it was the emotional piece.
TH: And, I just should say, pearl farming, the reason why we went to multiple countries is that it’s ubiquitous. The way of life is ubiquitous. They all incentive the people, planet, and business but here, most importantly, in the Philippines, is that spirit, the community aspect. That may sound corny or cheesy but it is real here. And I can tell you that coming form the States, everybody you meet that is not form here will tell you the same thing from an outside perspective: the spirit here is very unique and I hope you can see that in the film.
AP: Right, and if we just showed Jewelmer, no one would believe us. You don’t want it to come off as being an advertisement. It’s a story; you get to see that it happens all over the place. Getting to visit the farms for the first time just this week, you know, we got to see it in the footage, but getting to actually feel how much these people are really family. Many of them are away from their family, so they become each other’s family, it’s such a strong community, and we got to really see and feel that. Not only through the film, but also in person this week.
GRID: What do you hope for the viewer to take away from this film?
TH: I think it’s a very human story. When you really distill it all down. This film is very international. It’s very human. Take what business should be, what humans should be, and you sort of put it all together. I think that’s profound. That’s what I want people to take from this, the system, paradigm, to take into their lives and spread to their business, their policies, and lead a better life.
AP: We wanted to make an environmental film that didn’t come out at you and scream, blowing air in your nose, that it was an environmental film. That it rocked you a little bit, and gave you a story that you could relate to with your heart. Instead of feeling like you were in class. It’s a fine line to walk but hopefully people will take that away.
TH: If you see the title, we named it “Power of Pearl.” Power of “the pearl” is an object. Power “of pearl” is an idea. And that’s what we wanted this film to be. You could think about this for a long time and that’s what’s going to be difficult with the distribution. ‘Cause there’s so much there to think about. Existentialism. It’s only going to be for those people that get that. We’ll be having conversations about that, smiling…
AC: It also creates an opportunity in talking about the future and moving forward in the Philippines and all over the world, conversation being such an important part of that. Film is a medium that facilitates conversation, no matter what side you’re on. It’s something that everyone from all walks of life can come together around and talk about. It just facilitates conversation between people who are different and helps them open up the floodgates for change because it brings them together.