Pearls: New Documentary Dives Into the History of the Pearl & More

‘Power’ Up

When Taylor Higgins signed on to produce The Journey of the Pearl, a documentary about global pearl farming (including Chinese freshwaters), for the Cultured Pearl Association of America in 2010, he didn’t expect his link to the pearling world to last beyond the film. But just as collectors fall in love with the luster of pearls themselves, Higgins—the co-CEO, writer, director, and producer of Austin, Texas–based On the Reel Productions—was so bewitched by the backstory of pearls that he didn’t want the Journey to end. So he and business partner Ahbra Perry embarked on a new doc about saltwater pearling in the South Pacific, specifically the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia.

Goldenberry ring with golden Philippine South Sea pearl and 1.11 cts. t.w. diamonds in 18k gold; price on request; Jewelmer, Makati City, Philippines; 632-810-0266;

While the CPAA’s Journey took viewers on intimate tours of pearl farms and delved into growing and harvesting oysters, Power of Pearl “reveals the history of the pearl interwoven with the story of three pearl farmers, their journeys, how their farms came to be, and the impact they have on the environment and people around them,” explains Higgins.

The filmmaker was at the AGTA ­GemFair in Tucson to drum up excitement—and, more important, to raise money to finish the film, which needs a $150,000 cash infusion. Thus far, pearl producers in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia have funded half of each country’s budget and Higgins secured the rest by his own fundraising. The $150,000 would, in part, help complete post-­production, which Higgins estimates will run at least $50,000. He enlisted ­cinematographer/producer Kalyanee Mam to help polish the film in hopes of qualifying for grants—and, eventually, for film festivals including Sundance and Tribeca.

Potential buyers, says Higgins, could include BBC or the Discovery Channel; the doc also could go ­somewhere like OWN (the Oprah ­Winfrey ­Network), National Geographic, ­Netflix, or On Demand. “We’ve had nibbles of ­interest, but they want to see a ­finished product,” he says. “We’re at a crossroads now where we need funds to complete the next portion of the film.”

Left: a pearl diver hanging shell; right: filmmaker Taylor Higgins

Jewelmer director Jacques Christophe Bran­ellec has so much faith in the film that he allowed On the Reel to follow him around his company’s farms in the ­Philippines for two weeks. “There’s so little knowledge about pearl farming that we wanted to share our experience to get the word out,” Branellec explained to JCK during a March visit to the ­Jewelmer farms on the remote Palawan Islands. “It takes an ­exceptional individual with a ­philosophy of ­resilience to be a pearl farmer—it’s not an easy path.”

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