“Treasure Island,” a short film

Treasure Island from Elizabeth Lo.

I first saw “Treasure Island” at a screening of works by Stanford’s MFA Documentary Film students in 2014. Co-directed by Melissa Langer and Elizabeth Lo, it follows the perspective of children in four families living on the island, following them as they wander throughout the island and play. They dig in the dirt, peer through chain link fences enclosing remediation sites and explore old buildings adorned with warning signs.

We hear the children try to understand the proximity of the waste piles (“radiation lives nearby”), describe radiation (“it looks green and has purple dots”), and why it’s dangerous (“it makes my body sad”). The film pointedly illustrates the concerns of Health Physicist and whistleblower Robert McLean’s concernsabout exposure to children, as reported by the Center For Investigative Reporting. The filmmakers take a non-pedantic approach, establishing a sense of place and the psychological reality of living on the island through the eyes of the residents of Treasure Island who are most impacted by the health effects of radiation but least able to understand them.

Since I saw it, the film has since been screened at the Brooklyn Film Festival, Hot Docs, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and CAAMFest, among others, and I hope it continues to be seen.

Melissa Langer is a documentary director and DP based in Philadelphia. She is the recipient of a UFVA Carole Fielding Grant and her films have premiered at Telluride Film Festival, IDFA, and MoMA’s Doc Fortnight.

Elizabeth Lo is an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Hong Kong. Her work has been showcased at the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Hot Docs, True/False, BAMCinemafest, Laura Poitras’ Field of Vision, New York Times Op-Docs, and PBS’ POV.