A’ai marks a cinematic endeavor, serving as the inaugural film presented entirely in the Esselen language. This collaborative venture features a profound exchange between humans and non-humans, aiming to safeguard the vulnerable aquatic photosynthetic organisms that sustain life. At its core, the narrative unfolds through a dialogue between an Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation woman and a pelican on the shore, as the avian messenger solemnly heralds the funeral dance of the endangered kelp forest.

Experimental film by Kalie Granier in collaboration with Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation’s Alexandria Casares and tribal chairwoman Louise Ramirez, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research InstituteThe Nature Conservancy, subtidal ecologist Tristin Anoush McHugh, underwater photojournalist Jenny Adler, illustrator Gwladys Le Roy, sound design Blakely Dadson, drone footage Damien Golbin, animation post-production Thibault Stoyanov, pelican footage Alain Mellan, editing Stephanie Araud.

This project illustrates communication and collaboration possible between living species. Plants, animals and human beings, all inhabitants of the Earth, together, all in search of our survival in the Anthropocene, a time where 90% of the kelp forest of California has disappeared, together aware of our interdependent existence. This communication is in rhizome in order to lead to an evolution of environmental consciousness.

Central to the film’s narrative is the urgent call for action voiced by a pelican, symbolizing the impending peril faced by a marine ecosystem on the brink of collapse. Can we, as stewards of the Earth, rise to the challenge and protect the vital seaweed upon which our collective survival hinges? The film weaves a tapestry of connection and trust between the kelp forest, the pelican, and the Native American woman. Through this delicate interplay, a profound relationship emerges, serving as a conduit for the ocean’s urgent warning.

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