Maui County

Maui film shows power
of computer prediction

By Gary T. Kubota

LAHAINA >> Maui filmmakers Victoria and Cal Lewin have traveled from Alaska to Europe to document how computers are solving the problem of clear-cutting trees in Oregon to forecasting hunger in the Sudan.

They filmed a one-hour documentary, "World in a Box," a project that took six years and will air on Hawaii Public Television at 9 p.m. Dec. 14.

"The whole point is to show computer technology and its use," said Victoria Lewin. "Groups of people are starting to use it to solve local problems."

The Lewins based the fast-paced documentary on how geographic information systems -- capable of assembling, storing, manipulating and displaying geographically referenced information -- solve a variety of problems.

In Rome the Lewins visited the United Nations' World Food Program, where a computer system not only has been developed to predict recurring famines in the Sudan, but also help determine the support needed to deliver food to the hungry.

Victoria Lewin said using computer analysis, U.N. officials are able to take action about two months ahead of a developing famine and save a couple of hundred thousand lives, according to program officials.

In Oregon, geographic information systems have been used to identify the location of natural resources in the Applegate Valley and enabled competing groups to find common ground, she said.

Lewin said loggers, farmers, environmentalists and homeowners found they have an interest in maintaining the watershed and preventing forest fires.

Using a computer simulation program, planners are able to visually show where undergrowth needs to be cleared to prevent forest fires and how a forest is likely to appear 50 years after logging.

Lewin said people in Applegate Valley are beginning to use the computer programs as a land management tool.

"It has ignited a grass-roots democracy rebirth in areas," she said. "They all talk together. They agree on the basis of fact."

Other stories in the documentary include the use of weather sensors in the San Joaquin Valley to help farmers determine the amount of water and pesticides to apply to plots of land, and how Alaskans in Barrow are developing a computer-modeling system to determine the environmental and cultural impact of future developments.

The Lewins said they received some grant money but that the work was a "labor of love."

Both not only researched and wrote the documentary, but also filmed it. Cal Lewin also wrote the musical score.

The documentary was made while they continued to operate their commercial advertising business, Opticus Films.

They have received a number of national awards in advertising, including Telly Awards for producing commercials for Infinity Speakers and Unisys Computers.

Other clients have included Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Lockheed-Martin, Oracle, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream and ACNielsen Research.

The Lewins, who moved their operation from Eugene, Ore., to West Maui six months ago, said they are also a part of the global computer growth in technology, enabling them to send their film work through high-speed communication to clients on the U.S. mainland.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this six years ago," said Cal Lewin.

A 30-second promotion of "World in a Box" may be viewed through accessing Opticus Films' Web site at

Opticus Films

County of Maui

E-mail to City Desk


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