If there's a film festival that could potentially benefit from the new virtual normal of this pandemic era, consider this in the world's most remote metropolis, Honolulu. (The closest neighbor to the city of more than 500,000 residents is San Francisco, just 2,386 miles away.) The Hawai'i International Film Festival is the launch pad for Hawaiian filmmakers, a cultural centerpiece for film voices in the Pacific Islands and Polynesia, and a Proven showcase for East Asian genre and art house cinema. It has always spread its proverbial audience widely. With theaters full of high school surfers in a moment and the next senior Japanese Hawaiian Jidai-geki fans, Polynesian third-gender activists, Samoan footballers, university anime lovers, Tongan teenagers, Okinawan foodies, homeless lawyers, Chamorro cinephiles and the usual worldwide cabal of K-drama enthusiasts. Even if you weren't particularly part of a community, at a screening you would likely end up in a community and learn from both a movie and the people around you. Forced online thanks to the pandemic, this year's quarantine release was certainly not the 40th anniversary HIFF had dreamed of, but the festival still found a way to create a virtual version of the community that had the added appeal of being nationwide available until November 29th. The Hawaiian and Pacific islanders' diaspora is everywhere, after all. So if you can't bring your community together to share culture, spread that culture to your community far away.
Hawaii's own local wave of films continues this year, with a welcome variety of approaches and aesthetics, even within the four feature films. Slow-burning street-level character studies like Christopher Kahunahana's highly anticipated Waikiki and Mitchel Viernes' Water Like Fire share the program with Stefan Schaefer's laid-back comedy Aloha Surf Hotel and Jason Laus J-horror-inspired supernatural thriller story game while documentaries both on Focus on cultural highlights, like Gerard Elmore's great look at a popular hula competition, Ka Huaka & # 39; i: The Journey to the Merrie Monarch, as well as topics that are definitely not part of tourist advertising, like Anthony Banua-Simon's Spread Combination of personal family narrative, Kauai work history and cinephile love work, Cane Fire or Gary Pak's heartfelt talk story study about the birth of the revolutionary land rights struggle of the native Hawaiians, Huli: Kokua Hawaii and the beginnings of the revolutionary movement in contemporary Hawaii. As always, the short program offers an even broader spectrum of topics and areas, from animated retelling of scenes from ancient Hawaiian history (Kapaemahu) to live-action versions of modern fights (Hawaiian Soul) and current studies of homelessness (Kama & # 39 ; aina: child of the country) and mental health (Red House; on the go).
We've followed the journey of Kahunahanas Waikiki in previous HIFF reviews (it's been in the works for at least three years), and we will have a separate profile and interview shortly. Suffice it to say that the portrait of a tall Hawaiian woman into the night (or out of the night) marks a milestone in local filmmaking, with a fascinating performance from lead actress Danielle Zalopany. Avoiding the beating of her abusive boyfriend, our heroine tries to make ends meet with multiple jobs – daytime Hawaiian language school teacher, night hula dancer for tourists, and karaoke hostess for old men – and slowly slips into homelessness and nightmare refuge a dream of family and memories of the earth. Partly dirt-covered, neorealistic exploration of indigenous trauma and homelessness, partly uncanny surrealistic fantasy, the film sets a mood of living nightmare that you won't shake anytime soon. Waikiki is the first feature coverage by a native Hawaiian filmmaker (Kanaka Maoli) and features multiple readings and rewards.
A similar life on the edge and a comparatively violent performance by Randall Galius anchor Water Like Fire, which haunts a young woman (Taiana Tully) and her drug-addicted brother (Galius) both after and before two tragic incidents. There's enough glimpse of the Hawaiian sea and surf to remind viewers of the area, but Viernes focuses on the everyday of working-class Hawaiian life, where inland dunghouses and tarmac sidewalks are the norm over white sand beaches and where to go Surfing is less of a daily ritual than the only way to stay healthy. Viernes & # 39; naturalistic, characterful approach places high demands on his two young leading actors. Tully may have the more difficult role as a serious, "steady" presence, but Galius shines as the worried younger brother.
Tully also stars at the Aloha Surf Hotel, showing off a laid-back girl-next-door charm that pairs well with this comedic look of a washed-out middle-aged surfer (popular Hawaiian comic / radio personality Augie Tulba) who needs his life together to help a difficult, family-run hotel survive. Maui-based director Schaefer, who worked with production partner Brian Kohne to develop several features such as Maui (2017) and Get a Job (2011), makes sure that the plot is airy, albeit with a few less rewarding comedic gusts, while the presence of veteran actors Matt Corboy and Branscombe Richmond makes Tulba feel less "Augie T, Comic!" and more "Augie Tulba, actor." Aloha Surf Hotel is a warm growing up story, even if that growing up came from a man in his fifties. It even provides space to address some of the problems that haunt its more serious brothers with problems of increasing displacement, the disappearance of "aloha" and the threat of small family business takeovers. "This is a very local movie, with a theme that is in line with what's happening," noted Augie T in the post-movie Zoom Q&A. "There's a lot of positivity, a lot of aloha … I think this will show a sign of Hawaii that many people want to see. "
Jason Lau's Story Game is a co-production between Hawaii and Japan that was filmed at both locations. It pays homage to the Japanese film industry, especially its stories about the supernatural. (Formerly the home of several Japanese-language cinemas before the advent of video and now the home of a cable network that constantly shows Japanese cinema, Hawaii may consume as many Japanese films as Japan.) Story Game takes the horror movie chestnut from three attractive dopes in the forest and gives it to it a spin worthy of both Hawaii and Japan, as each character takes turns playing an island-style "talking story", though all three of their stories are set in Japan and draw on both modern and ancient Japanese ghost stories. Special praise goes to long-time local cameraman Anne Misawa, whose spectacular images change from dark wood fires to dark Tokyo high schools, sun-drenched Japanese forests amid samurai battles and claustrophobic underground tunnels.
The documentary Cane Fire combines film history with the personal and political begins as a family story in which filmmaker Banua-Simon follows his older Kauai great-uncle across the island in hopes of learning more about the sugar industry that preoccupied him (and much of the island), or the Kauai set Films he might have been part of. A secret story of union formation, racial discrimination and police action slowly begins to unfold as a journey to another “Hollywood-centric” locale begins – Kauai's now-abandoned Coco Palms Hotel, where Elvis films and others were invented Myths turned another story buried in the background, that of indigenous land rights and the corporations who like to overlook them. A Los Angeles is playing itself like the Hawaiian uncle you never had told it. His way of telling a story leads you down several winding, twisted, but always interesting paths. Cane Fire represents the experimental side of Hawaii cinema in its most radical yet personal form.
In a similar context, few works are as personal – and radical in spirit, if not in form – as Huli: Kokua Hawaii and the Beginnings of the Revolutionary Movement in Contemporary Hawaii. The film was selected from years of interviews with leaders of a 1971 protest against indigenous land rights in the Kalema Valley that helped kick-start the modern Hawaiian renaissance. He emphasizes a story that is being relived in the form of the Mauna Kea movement and other ongoing struggles to protect the indigenous people from outside takeover. The film itself is as straightforward and uncompromising as many of the activists in that it consists essentially of one-on-one interviews on a subject interspersed with a handful of stock photos. (In fact, most of the interviews were edited from even longer versions on YouTube). Still, it is invaluable as a portrait of the revolutionary zeal of the 1970s and is still relevant. The credits, which list the passing of many topics after their interviews, are a reminder that while their stories will go on, their stories will go on. It is less of a work of art than a testimony, but rather a movie that appears to be seen more from home than from a theater, as the names and fights it relates to are more easily looked up and learned.
Among the short films at the “Made in Hawai'i” festival, several stood out. The virtual streaming process enabled the audience to select a film at a time and find their own way through the program. Kapaemahu (Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson) is animated by Daniel Sousa rich in gold and rust and is reminiscent of Michel Ocelots Kirikou and the sorceress. It tells the ancient history of the origins of four legendary stones in Waikiki, which were created in honor of four healers of the "double male and female spirit" from Tahiti who brought the healing arts to Hawaii. The post-film Zoom Q&A was particularly rewarding with an inviting hula from an Oakland-based collective and multiple insights from the creative team. "I am Kanaka – a local person in an island nation who has been illegally overthrown and is still occupied by a foreign power," notes Wong-Kalu in the press kit of the film. “Our aboriginal survival depends on our ability to know and practice our cultural traditions, speak and understand our language, and feel an authentic connection to our own history. So I wanted to make a film about Kapaemahu and write and narrate it in Olelo Niihau – the only form of Hawaiian that has been spoken continuously by foreigners since the arrival. We must actively participate in telling our own stories in our own way. "
A more contemporary spotlight on Hawaiian cultural resistance can be found in ‘ina Paikai's Hawaiian Soul about legendary Hawaiian activist George Helm. A singer, guitarist, cultural philosopher and committed political activist, Helm disappeared in 1977 at the age of 26 when he protested against the occupation of the US Navy and the serial bombing of the island of Kaho’olawe. Rather than focusing on Helm's entire life, Hawaiian Soul wisely confines itself to a small moment of community action when Helm and his colleagues must receive the blessing of several elders on Maui. Filmed with a contemporary, sun-drenched '70s glitz, the film captures the spirit of young activists just awakening to their voices. "A lot of people don't know who he is, and this is an opportunity to use him as a role model to tell our story as Hawaiians," said Paikai in the Zoom Q&A. "George was just a guy back then, but you watch all these Mauna Kea videos now and you see all these people and they're kind of connected to George."
Filmmakers, of course, don't need to look to the past to express their Hawaiian pride or to question the issues that affect so many Hawaiians today, whether native or not. Kimi Howl Lee's Kama’āina (Child of the Country) begins as a tale in which a strange teenager becomes homeless in Honolulu. it follows her to the huge homeless camp Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae and offers its organizers the opportunity to speak. Gerard Elmore's Red House traces a young man who returns to childhood and faces both the memory of an earlier event and the present-day aftermath of another event. With his story of a personal trauma in front of the spectacular, timeless backdrop of the region's bays and mountains, he succeeds in giving his universal theme a specifically Hawaiian locale.
As one of the champions of the local film scene, Elmore also helps organize the local Ohina Film Labs, which provide young talent and screening opportunities for emerging talent. His second film at the festival, Ka Huaka & # 39; i: The Journey to Merrie Monarch, follows three hula troops as they prepare for the region's acclaimed Merrie Monarch hula competition, the Super Bowl of Hula. The Hawaiian Airlines-funded film is definitely the festival's most audience-friendly film due to its recognizable theme and location, and it will undoubtedly be a high-demand streaming title for those looking for a nostalgic taste of home. That said, it's also a beautiful film with close-up shots of the actors, chants, and kumu hula (teachers of hula) capturing their focus and emotions. Shots of bandaged toes and ankle braces show the physical stresses involved in dancing, while the final performances, amid the natural beauty of Hawaii, bring to light the connection between art and the land that inspired it.
In addition to the local scene, HIFF also has a wide selection of shorts and features from Pacific Islander, as well as some of the East Asian titles released this year. Unlike many other festivals which either turn to art house cinema or a more commercial genre fare, HIFF offers both, from Korean actioners like Hitman: Agent Jun and The Swordsman to more cerebral works like Lucky Chan-sil. Hong Kong fans will appreciate the spotlight on legendary director Ann Hui (Boat People) while Japanese cinephiles can see Miwa Nishikawa's Koji Yakusho with Under the Open Sky.
HIFF's commitment to Asian-American cinema is particularly rewarding in this context. HIFF's opening night centerpiece was Lee Isaac Chung's Steven Yeun family drama Minari (already an Oscar nominee for film, director and star). Bao Tran (a HIFF veteran whose previous shorts appeared at the festival) brought his warm, surprisingly comical tribute to Hong Kong's 80s martial arts films, Paper Tigers, about three former martial arts protégés who are now (in) comfortable in the middle are -age who must reunite to fight the murderer of his estranged master. Patricio Ginelsa also returned to HIFF with Lumpia With a Vengeance, the sequel to his zero-budget film Lumpia from 2003, this time with none other than MMA fighters Mark Muñoz and Danny Trejo. A hilarious show from comic book superheroes, Lumpia With a Vengeance follows "Lumpia Man," a superhero who fights villains with Lumpia and all manner of flour-based food-in-roll form battles. The film is set in Fogtown USA, a not particularly camouflaged town in Daly City, California (Ginelsa's hometown, the US city with the largest Filipino population and which happens to be the closest city to Honolulu with over 100,000 residents) its deconstruction of Superhero tropes that entertain on their own and even more as a unique love letter to the Filipino and Filipino American culture and even contain a purely Filipino soundtrack. If superheroes with starters aren't your thing, perhaps Mallorie Ortega's The Girl Who Left Home could bring up another Filipino American film that is rooted in the genre. This time around, it's the Broadway musical that anchors that vivid story of a young, hopeful musical theater (Haven Everly) that must return to Maryland to take care of their mother and possibly help their family's restaurant survive. The Girl Who Left Home is as well versed in its genre as Paper Tigers or Lumpia With a Vengeance. The characters break out into songs as often as the others break into fights, as many surprises, including a mother / daughter relationship seldom seen on screen.
Chung, Tran, Ortega, and basically the entire Lumpia team, all appear for informative, informal Zoom questions and answers about their respective films, with Tran and Ortega particularly connecting with their festival hosts. Other HIFF-Zoom questions and answers to consider (all available by November 29) include conversations with local celebrities who became international personalities, Jason Scott Lee and Keala Settle; Festival winners Lana Condor and Rachel Brosnahan; Guest filmmakers such as Ursula Liang, Bao Nguyen and Roseanne Liang as well as an insightful three-part discussion, The Way Forward, on black-led social movements, multi-ethnic identity and intercultural care during the pandemic, each with a large number of guest filmmakers, curators and scientists.
Such zoom dives are a way for festivals to restore the sense of community that has disappeared in this era of quarantines and single flows. The audience can of course find their own way to connect and find their own community. It is an opportunity to find common themes in a festival program and to engage with them. After experiencing a double bill from Lumpia With a Vengeance and The Girl Who Left Home, all of a sudden you will be sitting at home missing your Filipino aunt, or the Filipino aunt you now, oddly enough, think you have. One night of multiple Hawaiian documentaries on Native American rights (and googling them) and you're ready to join the battle for Mauna Kea with anyone. The festival, especially in this quarantine era, rewards the curious. So look for the stories that you barely know or that you have never heard of. You may even find a community that you belong to, or at least can learn from.
The Hawai'i International Film Festival runs through November 29th. Most films and pre-recorded questions and answers are available nationwide. More details can be found here.