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Documentary

LAVA BOMBS: Truths Behind The Volcano

Through our collaboration with Alexander Whittle of Newlight Studio, we co-produced a documentary LAVA BOMBS, telling unheard human stories of the 2021 eruption of Volcán de Tajogaite volcano in Cumbre Vieja, La Palma and critically analysing the response to this disaster before, during and crucially after the eruption. You can watch the trailer for LAVA BOMBS below and see full details of where and how to watch it on www.lavabombsfilm.com. The movie aims to humanise the deep impacts of this event so we can encourage open debate and help to build RESILIENCE for the future. We invite you to participate in the conversation by posting on Twitter and IG and tagging @lavabombsfilm.

Available here on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Google Play!

Sincera gratitud a todos los de La Palma

We want to extend our upmost thanks to the people of the La Palma, without whom the LAVA BOMBS documentary nor the VolcanoStories project would have been possible. Throughout our time on the island, we have been incredibly humbled by the friendliness, generosity, interest and sincerity shown to us by the people of La Palma, especially given the personal ongoing difficulties that are being experienced by many islanders.
We are so grateful for all those that volunteered their time and experiences to us, we are thoroughly indebted to all of you. We continue to wish for all the best for La Palma and its people as it navigates the difficult task of recovering from this disaster. We continue to be firmly committed to telling this story, and supporting La Palma more broadly through setting up more science training camps on the island and fighting for more funding for Volcanological research in the Canary Islands wherever possible.

All of the participants in the film have been impacted by the unprecedented 2021 eruption in La Palma – by giving them all a voice we aim to build a bridge of understanding so that in future we can help to lessen the pressures and distress of any future event in the Canary Islands and other territories living with natural hazards.

It’s a difficult conversation, and we are eternally grateful to all the brave participants who agreed to take part during an exceptionally stressful time.

In particular, we want to give a special thanks to all the residents we interviewed on La Palma:

  • Samu Cáceres Leal
  • Andrea
  • Yanira Leal Rodríguez
  • Naira Espinosa González
  • Bali Díaz Lorenzo
  • Ana Jesica Acosta Cruz
  • Jose Alejandro Santos González
  • Juan

As well as all those we spoke to involved in the emergency response and communication:

  • Angel Víctor Torres Pérez
  • Mariano Hernández Zapata
  • Julio Perez Hernández
  • Miguel Angle Morcuende
  • María José Blanco
  • Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Lafuente Quiñones
  • Eugenio Fraile Nuez
  • Nieves Sánchez
  • Noelia García Leal
  • Agoney Piñero
  • Fracisco Moreno García
  • Javier Salinero
  • Juan Carlos Carracedo
  • Clive Oppenheimer
  • Jamie Salvador Diaz Pacheco
  • Vicente Zapata
  • Jenni Barclay
  • Tom Wilson
  • Cristina Alcaine

And the institutions which helped us throughout the documentary:

  • Radio Televisión Canaria
  • Unidad de Emergencia Militar
  • Instituto Geográfico Nacional
  • Guardia Civil
  • Instituto Español de Oceanografía
  • ILOVETHEWORLD

INVOLCAN and Pedro Sanchez (President of Spain) were invited to participate. 

The inception of LAVA BOMBS

For our team, adapting to the rapidly evolving situation was a dramatic experience. When we first arrived on La Palma on the 25th September, primarily to report on the eruption, it was overwhelming to witness at first hand the wide-ranging impacts of the volcanic event.

At times it was difficult to keep our emotions in check, and we witnessed many events too hard to report here, but we wanted to be available to provide context and scientific rigour to the international media teams on the ground through our associated experts.

It was whilst reporting on the updates from the eruption that we started to conduct our own interviews with local people on our phones. We wanted to document their rich stories and experiences, which especially at the start of the eruption risked being buried or forgotten due to the focus of both local and international media predominantly on the latest scientific updates of the eruption. Very quickly, we realised how valuable these testimonies would be for remembering all perspectives of the eruption. And of course, recollections vary over time and we felt it was vital to record witness testimony in real time.

In order to add rigour and quality to filming and raise our documentary to full feature status we joined forces with Alexander Whittle and Newlight Studios to explore the less reported sides of the eruption more professionally and extensively. We wanted to find a medium to ensure the voices of La Palma reached far and wide, so lessons can be drawn and changes implemented by emergency managers worldwide.

As well as local residents, we interviewed politicians, local and international scientists, and NGOs working as part of the disaster response, to piece together a holistic understanding of the eruption’s response.

We were unable to fit them all in the main documentary, but resolved to publish them in full via VolcanoStories to enable open access for anyone who would like to watch them.

We continue to talk, listen, debate and record in La Palma and Lava Bombs 2: The Reconstruction is due for release in September 2023.

Fuerza La Palma.

Behind the scenes

Shooting a documentary at the best of times can be an eventful experience and shooting a documentary during a volcanic eruption was no different! We wanted to share some of the behind-the-scenes experiences we had during filming.

We found these two friendly donkeys in the town of El Paso at the end of September, no more than a few km from the eruption. Their field was covered in ash, and well within earshot of the roaring volcano, yet they seemed totally undeterred by the eruption going on behind them. They were very friendly and wanted nothing more than some pets and grass from us!
Having been hoping that someone was looking after the donkeys after our first trip in September, we were overjoyed to see them again during our trips in October and November. They were still in good health so we assumed they must be being looked after, and still they were incredibly relaxed and undeterred by the volcanic eruption going on a few km away.
In fact, almost all of the wildlife we came across on La Palma had adapted very quickly to a volcano going off in their backyard. Birds, mammals and even the island’s well-loved geckos were around as normal just a few km from the eruption.
When visiting an erupting volcano, you know it will be eventful and there are many potential eventualities you can plan for. One thing you can’t plan for however, is spending an evening helping a local farmer to herd his escaped pigs back into their pen.
It turns out an indifference to a proximal volcanic eruption is not just a characteristic shared by donkeys; this friendly cow we saw seemed just as relaxed about the whole thing!
This interview with Maria José Blanco (Head of IGN Spain in the Canary Islands) towards the end of November was fascinating. The interview took place in IGN’s commandeered headquarters in the basement of a church in El Paso with a good view towards the volcano. The place was awash with screens, field equipment, wires and boxes. Behind Maria José was live feeds from the cameras set up around the volcanic cone and the seismometers close to the volcano. The day of the interview was one of a few days during the eruption with a very high number of earthquakes, and during the interview you could feel an earthquake through your feet and then see the signal simultaneously come through on the seismograph on the screen.
When you’re a geologist, any time is a good time to do some quick research! Here, our resident expert Alexis abandoned his coffee in the café to get his handlens out and examine the components of the ash that had collected on the tables outside the café!
A recent selfie with our friend and drone pilot Samu and some of his family and the GeoTenerife team. Since the eruption has finished, we have been visiting Samu to see how his own rebuilding is going after he lost homes in the eruption. It’s wonderful to see the progress he has made to get back on his
26th September, we were in a section of El Paso when an evacuation order was lifted, and people could return to their homes. We spoke to Samuel, whose first priority was cleaning the ash from his roof. He had been a bit scared when he was evacuated but said now that he had been told he could return to his home, he was no longer scared of the volcano. This neighbourhood was thankfully spared by the lava flows throughout the eruption.
26th September, we were in a section of El Paso when an evacuation order that had been in place for a few days was lifted, and people could return to their homes. The priority of these two local residents was to immediately continue with their winemaking process!
How not to toast a volcanic disaster…
28th September, and we were interviewing Dr Pamela Campbell, a previous GeoIntern with GeoTenerife on La Palma, who has since gone on to earn a PhD in geology. Throughout the morning the volcano had remained mostly silent, however it decided to let out a few coughs during our interview, catching us by surprise! The full interview can be found here.
When booking accommodation for what you know will be a trip full of long, physical days, don’t make the mistake we did on our first trip to La Palma and book (albeit lovely in all other ways) accommodation 1 km down a steep dirt track which was impassable for our rental cars! Needless to say we learnt our lessons for subsequent trips.
When volcano enthusiasts go on holiday, where do they book? Places named after volcanic phenomena of course! Learn about what a hornito is here.

When we first drove close to the volcano in our rental cars, we heard a sprinkling sound on the roof which we assumed was rainfall but turned out it was ashfall from the volcano. One challenge of our trips was to stop this ash getting into our filming gear and other electronics where it could have easily caused some damage.

This is a behind-the-scenes clip of how we filmed our Instagram Livestreams when we were reporting on the eruption at the end of September. You’d often lose your train of thought because you were distracted by a particularly dramatic explosion from the volcano, or you’d have to shout over it to be heard on the livestream.

Every once in a while our junior volcanologist Ben would ask to use the filming camera to get a close up view as it was better than any binoculars we had!
eporting on a volcano is tiring work, and our La Palma GeoIntern Rosie made a habit of napping in some quite spectacular spots before we went live to deliver our daily updates on the eruption.

Feedback and debate:

With Lava Bombs: Truths Behind the Volcano we aim to reflect the points of view of those affected by the eruption of Volcán de Tajogaite in La Palma and encourage widespread debate about valuable lessons that can be learnt and implemented.

In August/September 2022 we ran our annual summer training camp in the Canary Islands called @GeoIntern and we showed our international students the film. Their response was emotional and very intense, and many of their views are reflected on our website www.lavabombsfilm.com. It is heartbreaking to see how unevenly the lessons from previous disasters from around the world are being implemented. We hope, with this humble and well-meant film, to keep highlighting the many practical implications of emergency management and aid understanding so many of the pressures and anxieties felt in La Palma can be better understood and alleviated on all concerned.

We have started showing Lava Bombs openly in La Palma and running discussions to ensure everyone can watch, listen and be heard. We are open to running other forums where it would be useful: please contact sharonbackhouse@geotenerife.com

We also encourage open feedback and debate: please join the online conversation by posting on Twitter and Instagram and tagging @lavabombsfilm. Our LavaBombsFilm YouTube channel will also feature updates and feedback.

The entire GeoTenerife team will never forget the experience of the 2021 La Palma eruption. The sights, sounds, smells, feelings of this disaster as well as the places we visited and the people we met and remain in contact with remain in our hearts and we will keep working in La Palma to keep documenting as the reconstruction takes shape.

We love la Isla Bonita – we encourage you to visit and promote La Isla Bonita and its wide beauty and warm heart. Fuerza La Palma.

Showing for affected local people:

On the 11th September 2022, GeoTenerife held an intimate private viewing of the documentary for people affected by the eruption and those who were involved in the documentary. We wanted them to have a chance to see the documentary before it went for general release. It was an incredibly moving yet positive and necessary event, with a 2-hour mediated discussion about the documentary afterwards between scientists, politicians and residents, the first time that many of the affected residents had been able to have a voice in such an open forum.

Our 2022 La Palma GeoIntern cohort were also in attendance, and our three science communication interns Harjoth Soor, Divas Parashar and Ana Pelli wrote a brilliant piece on their experiences of the event, which you can also read on this page

Experiences of the Lava Bombs intimate showing – by 2022  Science Communication GeoInterns:

Written by Harjoth Soor, Divas Parashar and Ana Pelli, 11th September 2022

“‘Lava Bombs: Truths Behind the Volcano’ is an important documentary that tells the story of the Tajogaite eruption that occurred on the island of La Palma on the 19th of September, 2021. This Sunday, on the 11th of September, the film was premiered to local residents of the island and collaborators of the film so that they could present their views on the documentary and have an advance viewing before the final release. The film was presented at Cañas de Fuego, the interpretation centre built for the 1949 eruption, which now also has a new exhibition about the 2021 Volcán de Tajogaite eruption. This centre is located in the village of Las Manchas – one of the villages closest to the volcano. It was important to present the film in this area first as the museum provided a safe and intimate space for the affected people who are still dealing with the significant consequences of the disastrous event.”

Screening_Report1.docx

“Another resident expressed his dissatisfaction in the handling of the disaster by stating, “It was a matter of luck that there were no fatalities in this eruption. Had it happened at night time, I do not know how everyone could have survived”. Later in the discussion, a man imitated the sounds people heard around the island two weeks before the eruption while one of the local residents also explained to us how animal behaviour had changed weeks before the eruption. Her parrots and dogs did not want to leave their houses anymore. In the views of the residents, nature already gave signs that a huge event was about to happen and perhaps such ominous signs should be considered seriously. Finally, the discussion ended in the claim for a volcanic observatory in the island of La Palma. “It is the most active island in the Canaries, so why are there no dedicated observatories and laboratories here?”, someone added. During the eruption in La Palma, for analysis, rock samples from the eruption had to first travel by ferry to Tenerife, and then fly to Madrid. The lack of an efficient infrastructure here to prepare for volcanic hazards contributed to difficulties faced in the eruption response.

The intimate screening of a documentary that highlights the plight of those affected by a natural disaster achieves many goals, especially when the screening is held specifically for those whose story is being told in the film. This is significant at a time when filmmakers make terrific films about communities and people, but forget to include them in the conversation. The important themes brought out in the film, presented in a thoughtful way, touched those in the audience and this set the tone for an open and personal conversation right after. This gave the affected residents an opportunity to express their inner thoughts and shed light on their experiences of the disaster. The world has much to learn from what they have to say, and an intimate private screening like this is perhaps the best way to hear their voices.

Moreover, it is a good practice for filmmakers to first run their film through the various collaborators and stakeholders, in order to prevent any miscommunication and dissatisfaction when the film is released for a wider audience. Such a private screening with collaborators gives the filmmakers a unique opportunity to understand if they have done a good job at presenting the voices of the collaborators in a sensitive way that does not misrepresent what they intend to say. Given these factors, the makers of ‘Lava Bombs: Truths Behind the Volcano’ have attempted to stand up to the highest ethics of filmmaking and being responsible storytellers. We hope this event stands as an example for all filmmakers who are doing a commendable job at telling important stories and we wish the very best to Sharon and her team for the release of ‘Lava Bombs: Truths Behind the Volcano’ later this month.”

Screening_Report2