A PARADISE LOST is the quirky and inspiring tale of an endangered finch that sued the State of Hawaii to prevent its imminent extinction, the first animal in history named lead plaintiff in a lawsuit, “Palila v. Hawaii.” The story is told by the stuffed Palila bird which sat at the plaintiff’s desk, a representative of its entire species during the trial. Named Anuenue, the wisened, 150-year-old character narrates their adventures as an animated and stuffed bird, voiced by a Native Hawaiian actor. The film weaves animation and archival materials to visualize this landmark Endangered Species Act case, and revisits its surprising conclusion with interviews, documentary footage and reenactments.

We lived on Mauna Kea as our ancestors had done for millions of years. But now we have nowhere left to go, except to the skies.


Now a wise Hawaiian elder, Anuenue remembers their youth living with their large clan in dense mamane forests on the Big Island of Hawaii, killed by a visiting collector in the 1890s, made into a taxidermy specimen, and exhibited in a museum. As Hawaii modernized, the forests shrank, leaving scraggly mamane patches left. They vividly re-enact the trial in 1979, when eight scientists plead to remove introduced sheep and goats from Mauna Kea volcano to prevent the complete destruction of native forests and the critically endangered bird.

Palila completely depend on mamane trees, a native subalpine species found only in Hawaii, for food, shelter and nesting. A single flock of 1,300 birds survived on Mauna Kea, against an onslaught of threats. The State argued that they could co-manage recreational hunting and endangered wildlife conservation. Hunters argued against game animals’ removal from the mountain. Anuenue later recalls key events from multiple court battles.

Anuenue narrates the humans’ perspective: Palila’s attorney and the daughter of the activist who started the lawsuit, scientists and hunters, and a young Hawaiian conservationist who is today using native knowledge to restore Mauna Kea for future generations.

Anuenue’s story is a cautionary fable about the Hawaiian paradise that has already been lost, humanity’s role in destroying and protecting Earth’s most vulnerable in the Extinction Capital of the World, and the vital role of indigenous Hawaiian practices in Palila’s slow, steady recovery.

Realistic films show the physical world; animation shows its essence.

Roger Ebert