Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Event Slides Per Node 1415

Small Island Big Song
An Oceanic Songline

7:30 pm Friday, April 23, 2021

Small Island Big Song is a union of musicians from Madagascar to Rapa Nui/Easter Island, Taiwan to Zenadth Kes/The Torres Strait singing out from their islands across the ocean and reuniting a shared ancestry of the seas. In the spirit of storytelling before current borders were drawn, this film is an oceanic songline, a timely and uplifting musical plea for environmental and cultural awareness from those on the frontline of the climate crisis.

The film’s initiators, Australian filmmaker and music producer Tim Cole and Taiwanese film producer BaoBao Chen, met the artists on their homelands to record a song “which spoke for their heritage and environment.” It’s a song they took across the ocean for other artists representing their island to add to—all filmed in nature, sung in the language, and played on the instruments of that land. Through this process, the film’s voice was created in the field following the guidance of those carrying the cultural lineage, those who could speak for the land.

Small Island Big Song was filmed and recorded across the Pacific and Indian oceans in Australia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Bougainville, Borneo, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Mauritius, Vanuatu, Guam, Hawaii, and Taiwan.

A live touring production of Small Island Big Song is scheduled to come to the Center for the Performing Arts in April 2022. The appearance will include an artist residency. 

Director’s note from Cole: 

Please don’t expect a film with a conventional ‘Western’ narrative. This film seeks to connect the audience to an unspoken story of nature, carried in the cultural lineage of those who have lived for generations with their island homes, singing in the languages and played on the instruments shaped by that environment. Because I can’t speak for these cultures, and I wanted to find something beyond my understanding, I also worked to keep my voice as the director out of the film. So I asked the musicians to choose what music to contribute and where in nature to record and what to wear. This film is the result of that process.

For me, a cinema experience comes down to an hour or so spent watching projected images and sound. As long as you leave feeling respected by the filmmaker and culturally richer, that’s a valid cinema experience. You will find parts of it challenging, but any worthwhile journey covers some difficult terrain. Please watch it in one sitting; it is the whole that makes it complete.

Ethics statement: 

1.     Fair Trade Music Project – 50 percent of music net profits are distributed to the artists.

2.     Acknowledging Intangible Cultural Heritage, as defined in The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, by giving selected NGOs (by artists’ choice) a share in net profits.

Watch the event beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 23. It will be available for streaming until 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 30.

Enter the password SIBS to access the video.


How to Watch

The film will be streamed on this page for free. When streaming becomes available, a "Watch" button will appear. 

The film run time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

2020–2021 Up Close and Virtual season sponsors


This presentation is part of The Reflection Project, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contributions from the members of the Center for the Performing Arts and a grant from the University Park Student Fee Board help make this program free of charge.

Help us continue to provide free streaming programs with a donation of $5 or more. Or join as a member starting at $60 and receive benefits.


Secondary Events on Each Event

Earth Day Panel Discussion

7:00 pm Thursday, April 22, 2021

Live virtual engagement event

Free and open to the public

Penn State students and a Small Island Big Song artist will talk about ocean conservation, environmental justice, consequences of climate change, and the role the arts can play in creating and promoting change.

The discussion features Selina Leem of the Marshall Islands, a spoken-word artist who is among the global faces of climate change. She represented her islands in the film Before the Flood produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. In addition to participating in the panel discussion, Leem will offer a spoken-word piece at the end of the event.

The panel discussion is a partnership with the Penn State Sustainability Institute.