Skip to main content

Islands Without Cars with Kira Hesser

Unique new 6-part independent travel series, hosted by Kira Hesser, takes a rare and whimsical look at life on islands without cars

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - August 26, 2014

Premiering on WTTW11 on Friday, September 5 at 8:30 pm

Exploring islands in the Western Hemisphere’s developed world that have managed to keep a well-worn foot in the past by restricting or forbidding the use of motorized vehicles

Remember a world without cars, trains, or buses?  It may seem like a bygone era, but for some it is a modern reality. The new 6-part public television travel series Islands Without Cars explores islands in the Western Hemisphere’s developed world that restrict or forbid the use of motorized vehicles -- traveling and transporting goods by donkey, bicycle and other non-motorized means.  Each 30-minute episode is not a dry hike uphill through the mountains of history, but rather a fun and engaging romp across an island as seen through the eyes of a youthful and vibrant host, actress and comedian Kira Hesser.  The program premieres on WTTW11 on Friday, September 5 at 8:30 pm, the series’ regular timeslot.

Conceived and co-produced by Chicagoan Melissa Sage Fadim, originally of Michigan, the series is an almost poetic response to her life-long love for Michigan’s car-free, people-friendly and slow-paced Mackinac Island.  As a result of that fascination with people, pace and time, Islands Without Cars is a continuation of her decades-long collaboration with 3-time local Emmy winner , filmmaker (award winning Love Is A Verb), novelist (Kissing Doorknobs) -- and Chicagoan -- Terry Spencer Hesser (Treasures of the Art Institute, A War on All Fronts: The Life and Times of Robert R. McCormick,  Artbeat Chicago), and features Hesser’s daughter, the feature film actress and comedian Kira Hesser (Matilda, Awkward, Immobile Home) as the curious and fearless host.

“Whenever I thought of an island without cars,” says Fadim, “an island steeped in the traditions of the past and out of step with modernity, I thought of Mackinac Island.  And then I thought…I wonder if there are others.  And as it turns out, there are.  And each one is unique, amazing and colored by the people who make those places work – for tourists, for their families and for posterity.”

“Of all the programs I have produced in my life, this series has been far and away the most fun.  It is a unique opportunity to explore what island life means to culture and what culture means to island life -- in beautifully preserved places off shore,” said Terry Spencer Hesser.  “Sitting on an island without cars and listening to nature, to laughter, and to the ocean is really an opportunity to listen to ourselves -- our inner voices which are often drowned out in the noise of modern life.  Finally, it is a joy to be able to work with my best friend and my daughter to create these geographical and cultural profile gems.”

Episode descriptions for Islands Without Cars:

Italy’s Aeolian Islands
Just north of Sicily’s eastern coast lies a volcanic archipelago renowned for perfect weather, beautiful scenery, deep caverns, blue grottos, steep cliffs, ancient ruins, thermal healing resorts and volcanos...including one of the most active on the planet...erupting almost continuously for the last 2,000 years!  While we went looking for islands out of time, what we found on Italy’s Aeolian Islands was a series of unique experiences for all of the senses.  From islands so isolated that there was no radio to the extremely upscale tourist destinations, we treated all of our senses to the wonders of these volcanic dots...smelling citrus, jasmine and salt, listening to the call of fishmongers and then to the silence of the night sky, tasting incomparable Aeolian tomatoes and their beloved capers, felt mineral baths and sunshine on our skin...and met people who welcomed us into their unique lives with generosity and care.

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast
Over a thousand unique and beautiful islands dot Croatia’s incomparable Dalmatian Coastline.  And in our search for islands without cars, we explored the tiny island of Zlarin, known for its beautiful coral, and the even smaller island of Krapanj … celebrated for its history of sponge harvesting.   But we began our Croatian island  journey in the car-free medieval walled old town section of Dubrovnik … which  was also an island until the canal that separated Dubrovnik from the mainland was filled in the 11th century and a limestone-paved pedestrian thoroughfare was built.  Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast reveals the history, humor and hospitality of this former Kingdom and current tourist destination.

The Channel Island of Sark
In this episode, Kira takes a unique look at the last feudal state in the western world – a tiny, ruggedly beautiful island in the English Channel with only 600 contentedly car-phobic residents.  Interviews include Seigneur Michael Beaumont, the feudal lord who inherited the island from his grandmother -- the infamous Dame of Sark. The program features an “improper” tea (thanks to the Americans) with a founding descendent, an interview with the island judge (who is not a lawyer), a look at the single-cell jail for drunkards, as well as demonstrations in pottery-making, chocolate-mixing, carriage driving and cave exploring. Interviews include a rocking horse carver, a water colorist and a hotel operator straight out of Fawlty Towers.

Ireland’s Inis Meain 
According to legend, in the l7th century, Oliver Cromwell, the fanatical Protestant “Lord Protector” of England gave the Irish Catholics a choice:  they could go to hell or go to Connacht.  Some went further still – all the way to three ruggedly beautiful islands off of Ireland’s west coast.    Following in the footsteps of great Irish writers, Ireland’s Inis Meain explores Ireland’s pre-colonial past as the 150 Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of this wet rock in the Atlantic figure out how to manage their legacy and lifestyle just outside of the contaminating influences of the modern world.  The innovations – like a luxurious and exclusive new hotel and a sweater factory that sells to the likes of Barney’s – are controlled carefully with an eye toward tradition and the environment.  This program celebrates an island that is the repository of Irish culture, Irish island cuisine that is locally gathered, organically grown and beautifully prepared and reveals what it takes to knit a sweater that bears little resemblance to the fisherman’s sweaters.  In the process, we hear one of Ireland’s noted poets and fiddle players, learn to pour a proper Guinness, and discover what inspired the Irish Nationalist imagination.

The Greek Island of Hydra
The Greek Island of Hydra is an exploration into the lives of American and British expatriate writers and artists who have responded to the Siren’s call and reinvented their lives on this tiny, preserved, architectural and historical landmark – which also happens to be the only developed Greek island without cars. Interviews include internationally acclaimed Hydriot artist Panayotis Tetsus at a showing of his paintings, along with a host of expatriates who have followed in Henry Miller and Leonard Cohen’s footsteps to make Hydra their home. This is an opportunity to see what it’s like to escape to a Greek island.

France’s Isle of Porquerolles
Just 20 minutes by boat from France’s famed Cote d’Azur, the island of Porquerolles is dotted with five small ranges of hills, lined with cliffs and beaches and is renowned for the best weather in France with 275 sunny days per year. In 1912, the entire island was purchased by Francois Joseph Fournier as a wedding present for his second wife.  He then planted...among other things ... 500 acres of vineyards...and built a hotel. Everything is small, intimate and bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and pine.  There are no beachside shops or fast food.  There is no smoking allowed outside of the village.  And building on the island is mostly forbidden.  What there is, is nature...a grand hotel...and a great story of conservation and consideration.

Islands Without Cars is a presentation of WTTW National Productions in Chicago, and is distributed nationally by American Public Television (APT).  Executive Producer of Islands Without Cars is Melissa Sage FadimWritten and directed by Terry Spencer Hesser.  Produced by Melissa Sage Fadim and Terry Spencer Hesser.  Host/Narrator: Kira Hesser.  Editor:  Wayne Kumingo.  Graphics:  Margalit Neusner.  Camera:  Felix A. Mendez.  Field Audio: Mark Power.  Music: Massimo La Guardia, Salvatore Mecio.  Theme Music:  Max Cameron Mauer, Paul O’Connor.   “Like” Islands Without Cars on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.

About WTTW National Productions
WTTW National Productions, a division of Window to the World Communications, Inc. -- the parent company of WTTW11 Chicago -- is a premier producer and presenter of original, high-quality television programs for both public and commercial television broadcast.  For almost 60 years, WTTW Chicago and WTTW National Productions have introduced a wide array of ground-breaking television programming – reflecting the world’s rich and diverse arts and entertainment scene as well as education, politics, public affairs, business, and religion – to a national audience. Its landmark innovative series and original productions include the critically-acclaimed performance showcases Soundstage, Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis; Proclamation of Hope and David Broza at Masada: The Sunrise Concert; cultural series Grannies on Safari; MEXICO – One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless and Pedal America; the business series CEO Exchange; the documentary series Retirement Revolution; the weekly movie review series Ebert Presents At the Movies; the creative arts series The Artist Toolbox; the transmedia online educational childrens’ properties Mission to Planet 429 and UMIGO, and the award-winning childrens’ series WordWorld. For more information, please visit