By Laura'Simply Leah' McNeil
At the 2019 CaribbeanTales Film Festival we were presented with a documentary/biography by Peter Bailey called Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders at The Royal theatre in Toronto. In this film, writer and director Peter Bailey takes us on a journey through the events, and aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Maria which devastated the Virgin Islands and the neighbouring islands.
Now it’s no secret that the United States of America had an undeniably poor response to the disaster left behind by these hurricanes. As Peter experienced these storms first hand, his disappointment regarding this lack of response reached a boiling point which led New York Times Op-Ed entitled Has America Forgotten the Virgin Islands? This is Peter Bailey’s journey of spreading awareness between mainland Americans and one of its Territories St. Thomas began. This piece in the New York Times flourished into the Paradise Discovered series, which starts on the island of Anguilla. In the second part of this series we’re in St. Thomas, and introduced to Peter Bailey’s family. While on this visit we hear his mother’s memory of the terrifying events created by Hurricane Irma, followed by Hurricane Maria. Listening to his mother speak, you can feel the passion and motivation in her words as she tells us about the pivotal moment during one of the storms. In this moment, she realized that prayer was going to be what got her and her family through this terrible storm, and we all felt it. Peter goes on to show us his family home and the damage left behind by two of the scariest hurricanes this century. He and his family are still rebuilding.
Through the camera lens we see the aftermath of these hurricanes throughout the island and are equally amazed by how much damage had been done. As the audience watches on, we see buildings with no faces, houses with roofs completely ripped off, in addition to the houses which were literally separated from their foundation. Naturally, the unspoken question in the audience was ‘where is the aid from the US mainland?’ That was eventually explained to us, however I’ll let you find out for yourself when you watch this film. As we hear the stories from Peter’s fellow islanders the main message of togetherness was always at the forefront. One of the similarities in every story was how each islander realized how separated they were as a people before the disaster struck. One young lady talked about meeting people she’d never laid eyes on before the storm, only to find out that they had been neighbours for years. By the end of this film I thought: “What a wake up call this was for St. Thomas and its people!” As much as Peter’s mission with this series is to raise awareness, you can still hear and feel his anger and disappointment regarding the lack of attention his home country received after this devastation.
When speaking with Peter Bailey he clarified that he took those feelings of anger and disappointment and transformed them into motivation. I asked him what changes he hopes this film will inspire, and he said his intent is to bridge the gap between mainland USA and its territories and states. When I asked what’s next for this series, he let me know that he’s currently working on the third installment of the ‘Paradise Discovered Series’ which takes place on the island of St. Maarten. Peter Bailey is definitely on to something here and I look forward to seeing the next chapter in this series at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival soon.
*Editor’s note: Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders was screened at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival ‘19