There are tons of beautiful images in this film.
There are tons of beautiful images in this film. Courtesy of Cinema Guild

One does not simply watch Fern Silva's Rock Bottom Riser, one experiences it. The experimental documentary is a profound, kaleidoscopic look at Hawaii as the centuries-old launching point for explorers of both the cosmos and the sea. Much of the film is centered on Native Hawaiians' struggle against the construction of massive telescopes on the sacred Mauna Kea volcano. However, the experience of watching Rock Bottom Riser is much more difficult to define, as it plays like a nature documentary-cum-anti-colonialist critique.

Silva weaves together images of volcanic ooze and the star-dotted heavens with scenes of bros blowing smoke rings in vape shops and a poetry seminar listening to Simon & Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" on cassette. Over it all is commentary from the voices of Indigenous people, who relay Hawaiian cosmology, history of Polynesian sea voyaging, critiques of Dwayne Johnson's casting as Hawaiian King Kamehameha, and the colonialist function of astronomers. Scored with ambient sound, Rock Bottom Riser is psychedelic and disorienting. But the film's real value lies in its poetic and symbolic connections between these disparate images and dialogue. The result is a poetic and political tribute to Hawaii and its original inhabitants.

Fern Silva's Rock Bottom Riser is in theaters at Northwest Film Forum starting on Friday, April 29. The Saturday and Sunday screenings will be in 35mm print.