Hawaii International Film Festival
The twenty-two-year-old Hawaii Inter-national Film Festival (HIFF) is an ambitious statewide event that screens films and demonstrates the spirit of Aloha, the spirit of inclusion. The festival features 200 films over ten days at a wide variety of venues, from a beach to a symphony hall, on a total of five Hawaiian islands, starting with Oahu.
Appropriately enough, the screening for this year’s Golden Maile Special Award winner, Charlotte Lagarde and Lisa Denker’s documentary, Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka’ehukai, about Hawaiian female surfing legend Rell Sunn, was held on the beach at Waikiki while the Pacific slapped the shore, and a “blessing,” or gentle Hawaiian misting rain, fell on the crowd. But not only was Sunn the surfer known as the Queen of Makaha, she was also a woman who died at the age of forty-seven from recurring breast cancer, contracted when she was thirty-two, possibly linked to DDT spraying on Oahu. At a festival where at almost any time you may find the hula being danced in the pressroom, it’s easy to be distracted from the vital Pacific Rim stories by the Pacific Rim itself.
“We need help in Hawaii because we’re really marginalized . . . by being mistaken only as sun and fun,” says documentarian Tom Coffman, whose film Arirang: The Korean American Journey, about the emigration of Korean families to Hawaii, screened as part of HIFF’s celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Koreans in the state. “We’re really struggling to get taken seriously by something as simple as PBS . . . Our basic problem is that the world of television networks, and so on, revolves around an Atlantic-facing East Coast. People just think of this as exotic, but hey, it’s real. We’re real people out here. We’re real people, and we are unique in many ways, in terms of the way the cultures have come together here.”
Oahu’s Film Ohana (Family)—‘Olelo’s Children
The more you mingle with Oahu’s ohana (or “family”) of filmmakers, the clearer the influence of ‘Olelo, the island’s public access station, becomes.
Meaning “to speak” or “to communicate” in Hawaiian, ‘Olelo is a home for local beginning and experienced filmmakers. The facility offers classes, resources, and equipment, from cameras to editing bays, to all Oahu residents. Borrowing equipment is free, and beginning classes range from $35 to $55. The only condition for equipment use is that you air whatever you shoot on ‘Olelo once. “The only thing you ever pay for is your own tape stock,” explains Meredith Nichols, outreach coordinator for ‘Olelo. “I tell people to think of it like a public library.”
When Oceanic Cablevision bought the Hawaii cable television franchise, the state’s department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs negotiated a deal that is the envy of many public access stations across the country. Public access channels, run by nonprofit media centers, are paid for but not controlled by the cable franchises on each of the islands. “We are funded completely through Oceanic Cablevision. One hundred percent. No taxpayer dollars. It’s now Time Warner Oceanic Cable, but the franchise agreement is still solid,” Nichols says. ‘Olelo boasts five twenty-four-hour channels.
Former pro surfer Daniel M. Skaf, currently an MFA candidate in film production at Chapman University in Orange County, California, not only learned to use a camera at ‘Olelo, he found a calling. “I discovered my passion,” declares Skaf, whose second documentary, The Birthing of Iosepa, screened at HIFF this year and is soon to be aired on DirectTV. “It all started at ‘Olelo,” he says.
Leah Kihara, HIFF Aloha Airlines winner for I Scream, Floats and Sundays, is a special-projects manager at ‘Olelo. “It’s kind of like being in film school again, because we all grew up on each other’s projects. We don’t mind sweating it out for nothing. It’s just refreshing working with each other, generating ideas, and then seeing it made,” she says. “It’s not just good friends, but it’s people I totally respect as workers as well.”
“Myself, I made my film on the help of a lot of friends, and a lot of people were very generous,” echoes Kamuela Kaneshiro, whose $700, fifty-four- minute film about Dante’s Inferno, R.E.M., also screened at HIFF. “We shot it in fourteen mostly six-hour days, twelve to twenty setups a day. I got everybody who had time to come out to work . . . We had the people doing what they do for Jurassic Park and Pearl Harbor [but it was] for my project, out of the kindness of their hearts.”
‘Ohina Short Film Showcase
While HIFF does present local work under the umbrella of the Hawaii Panorama screenings, in 1999 Jeff Katts and his boss at Pacific Focus, Jason Suapaia, decided they wanted a little more. They wanted a venue where local, independent, short filmmakers could take themselves and their films seriously. The result was a weekend of shorts every October at the Academy of Arts Doris Duke Theatre, called the ‘Ohina Short Film Showcase.
“‘Ohina is a Hawaiian word that means the coming together or gathering,” Katts explains. What started as friends asking friends if they wanted to show their films has become an international event. “Our slogan when we started was ‘join the gathering.’ Now it’s ‘short films done by Hawaii’s hottest filmmakers,’” says Katts.
It’s their fourth year. They’re nonprofit. And they’ve become the first-time showcase for many local projects, several in this year’s HIFF Hawaii Panorama, including Forgotten Promise, by Ryan Kawamoto, The Procastinators, directed by Shawn Hiatt, and Kahira’s I Scream, Floats and Sundays.
“I gave myself five years,” says Katts, “because I wanted to see it grow, then have somebody else try to nurture it. It will still keep going, no matter what.” When Katts leaves, after next October’s ‘Ohina Short Film Showcase, it will be to start an entertainment company plan-ned to have a similar scope to Dream-works, with independent projects in film, television, music, and theater.
‘The ‘O Files—Jackie Burke
“‘O. That’s a word. That’s a Hawaiian word. It means to dig, to pierce, to break through,” says Jackie Burke, executive producer of The ‘O Files, an independent half-hour Hawaiian language series that began airing December 1, 2002, on KIKU, Oahu’s Channel 9. “It’s a magazine format using the Hawaiian language, with subtitles either in English or Hawaiian. Because we can’t come to events and always expect a native speaker . . . we translate into Hawaiian . . . then we have two or three spots in the show where we have native speakers and we subtitle in English. KIKU is a multicultural station. It has Korean, Japanese, Samoan, Filippino, and they’re dying to have Hawaiian,” explains Burke. “It’s a regular station, so we can sell ads. On, ‘Olelo, we’re restricted to being nonprofit.”
The ‘O Files is part of Burke’s development of the Native Hawaiian Multimedia Network, which includes a newspaper, TV show, radio show, and website.
Besides fundraising and writing grants for arts and culture, Burke’s other project, The Sovereignty Bus, or Ka’a Ea in Hawaiian, is a mobile multimedia project devoted to raising awareness of the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty. “What it’s doing is educating the choices of independence or dependence for the Hawaiian community, because we have to make those choices,” Burke explains. The bus will travel through Hawaii and down the West Coast, collecting opinions from Hawaiians on sovereignty. Eventually the findings will be driven across the US. “[We’ll be] stopping at other Indian nations, asking them to join our caravan, as we go to Washington, DC, to deliver our outcomes.
“Is that a film or what?” Burke laughs. “The buses will have the artwork of the creation chants on them. On top of that will be . . . our four main gods, which are male gods. My friend is a director of Hawaiian studies, and she said, ‘Now, where are the female gods?’ I said, ‘In the bus, of course, where they always have been.’”