Their views

Native Hawaiians have the chance to tell their own stories during the monthlong 'Oiwi Film Festival

By Gary C.W. Chun 

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 02, 2010

"Film is the most powerful art form of our time, and Hawaiian filmmakers need to be at the forefront of films about Hawaii and Hawaiians," said local filmmaker Ann Marie Kirk.

That Kirk makes such a proclamation should be no surprise. As one of the programmers of the monthlong 'Oiwi Film Festival at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Kirk is attempting to ensure that Hawaiians tell their own stories on film. While it's true that native Hawaiian voices in film have been a persistent, albeit small, presence over the years, never have this many indigenous perspectives been brought together for one event until now.

Filmmakers range from a Kamehameha Schools film class to longtime activist documentarians Puhipau and Joan Lander of Na Maka o ka Aina. The 19 short subjects and features will be showcased through May 26 and will also include question-and-answer sessions every night of the festival.

The festival is organized thematically into seven programs. Kirk's documentary about her grandfather-filmmaker, "Homealani" (which is a new, reworked version from its initial December screening at Kamehameha), and her 1996 collaboration with Carlyn Tani, "Happy Birthday, Tutu Ruth," will be part of the festival's closing program that honors kupuna.


» Where: The Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

» Admission: $8; $7 students, seniors and military; and $5 museum members

» Info: 532-8701 or


"'Homealani' is the film that led to the creation of the 'Oiwi Film Festival," she said. "I met Gina Caruso, the film curator (at the Academy of Arts), when I was looking for a place to screen 'Homealani.' As we began talking story, our discussion led to something larger -- having a Hawaiian film festival -- but then it became more specific to having a film festival for Hawaiian filmmakers in the role of director or producer."

ONE OF THOSE filmmakers is Kamakanioka'aina Paikai, who will be graduating this spring from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor's degree in arts and sciences from the Academy for Creative Media film program. He has two shorts in the festival, the Hawaiian-language "E Ola i Keia Po (Live Tonight)" and the pidgin-rich "Moke Action" (both with helpful English subtitles).

"I transferred to UH (from Leeward Community College) with the intention of getting into the academy under the video-gaming track," Paikai said, "but when I took the prerequisite class where we studied all aspects of film, it intrigued me, especially foreign films, and got me questioning why no films were being made in the Hawaiian language.

"Historically, Hawaii in narrative films have been purely used as a backdrop, and almost always the story is from a foreigner's point of view. There are so many stories that we have here in these islands, and I just want to share my perspective with my people and the rest of the world."

After an early interest in autobiographical writing, Paikai thinks he's found his creative voice in filmmaking.

His two shorts were originally student projects. "'E Ola i Keia Po' was the first Hawaiian-language film to come from the ACM. I wanted to do a modern-day story in Hawaiian language to show that it is still a living language. ... 'Moke Action' was made the next semester for an advanced production class where all the students in the class must pitch a script idea and the entire class votes, and mine got chosen. It was just a funny concept, poking fun at formal English and legitimizing pidgin.

"Documentaries with Hawaiian content were being made steadily for the past 20 years, but with the resurgence of the language, more people were becoming versed in Hawaiian and I felt that right now is the time to start making Hawaiian narrative films," he said.

In focusing on the rich lives of her grandfather and a beloved "auntie" who lived in Waipio Valley on the Big Island, Kirk has continued to be engaged as a filmmaker.

"I choose to tell the stories that move me and I think will move others. Whether my films are short, long, narrative or documentary, the one component I hope that is always present is the emotional connection with the viewer."

Kirk said the community response to 'Oiwi "has been incredible."

"People are really excited to come to see the films, and this is important because it lets us know there is an audience out there who wants to see films by Hawaiian filmmakers and that we must continue to tell our stories in film.

"The film festival is important because it is about representation," Kirk said. "Many times in film, Hawaiians have been left out of the final decision-making process of the narrative of our own story. Those decisions were being made by directors and producers who are not Hawaiian. The films in this festival represent Hawaiian storytellers in control of what's going on in front of, as well as behind, the camera."

Paikai said, "Please come out to support native filmmakers. We made these films for you, Hawaii."