Documentary, 60 minutes,

digital dv-Cam, color, 2010.

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Ann Marie Nalani Kirk

Blue Crater Media


2010 constituted a landmark year

for Native Hawaiian filmmakers

with the premiere of the ‘Oiwi Film

Festival, which ran from 1–26 May

at the Honolulu Academy of Arts

Doris Duke Theatre. Although Native

Hawaiians have been active in the

filmmaking process for at least the last

forty years, the presentation of a collective

body of their work in festival

form has never been achieved—until

now. The film festival was the culmination

of an eight-month-long

collaboration between film curator

Gina Caruso and Hawaiian filmmaker

Ann Marie Nalani Kirk; Kirk’s two films

films Happy Birthday, Tutu Ruth and

Homealani (the subject of this review)

were featured in the festival lineup.

Homealani, Kirk’s most recent

and inarguably most personal work,

documents the life of her grandfather,

Colonel Oliver Homealani Kupau,

of Homealani is a montage of moving

images taken by Kupau—in both

color and black-and-white—which

include, among other things, a trio

of young girls dancing hula, Kupau’s

beloved wife Jessie walking in the

family garden, and family and friends

preparing what looks like an imu

(earth oven). This sequence is infused

with an almost haunting quality by

technical features such as the graininess

of the film and the melancholy

piano music that plays underneath the

otherwise silent images. But something

subtle is at work here, something

deeper. It is as if we are watching the

past in motion; we are seeing intimate

moments in peoples’ lives—moments

that may have long been forgotten,

but which are forever fixed in time

through the power of the camera.

Homealani evokes an undeniable sense

of intimacy with the past and an emotional

connection to the people—powerful

impressions that Kirk manages to

sustain throughout the film.

As with any good piece of literature,

a memorable film begins with

a compelling first line of dialogue

to draw the audience in. Such is the

case with Homealani As the opening

images slowly fade to black, the

filmmaker’s voice-over begins the

narrative thread: “I was born the year

my grandfather died.” This powerful

statement immediately situates Kirk

in the wider framework of the story

and underscores her connection to her

grandfather, even though he died when

she was only six months old. Despite

his physical absence in her life, Kirk’s

understanding of Kupau has come

through a treasure trove of resources,

including family photographs and

letters dating from the early twentieth

century, archival film footage and

audio recordings, and the recollections

of family and friends. The filmmaker

uses this valuable collection of family

written, visual, and oral history—

much of which she was not privy to

until she began the research process

for Homealani—to give flesh to the

shadow of her deceased grandfather

and to follow the trajectory of his life

from his early childhood and youth,

to his life as a husband, father, and

military man.

One of the principle themes in

Kupau’s life was his thirty-eight-year

career in the US military. He joined the

army at an early age and worked his

way up to the rank of colonel in the

prestigious 298th Regiment Hawai‘i.

He served alongside other Hawaiian

men—including Colonel Francis

Ho‘oka‘amomi Kanahele and Colonel

Samuel Ke‘ala—who, like him, were

able to retain their indigenous culture

while succeeding in the culture of the

military. Speaking about the three men

in one of many interviews conducted

by the filmmaker with family and

friends, Beadie Kanahele Dawson

(daughter of Colonel Kanahele) stated,

“They were all bright, well-educated

men . . . and they never lost their

Hawaiian-ness and they never lost

their military discipline. They were

able to combine the two.” In many

ways, as the filmmaker relays, not

only did the military provide Hawaiian

men with a sense of structure during

a time of change, but through their

military service these men were able to

perpetuate the warrior spirit of their


Despite the devoted service men like

Kupau gave to the military, however,

their loyalty was not always reciprocated.

As the film reveals, Kupau was

never promoted to the rank of general,

even though he demonstrated the

highest level of performance throughout

his career. While the Hawaiian

values by which Kupau lived his life

undoubtedly helped him to be a more

effective military leader, many of his

family members believe that he was

overlooked for promotion because he

was Hawaiian. Thus, while Kupau

may have been able to integrate the

Hawaiian and American cultures with

some success, there were times when

the fault line between the two was

clearly distinguishable.

As one of a growing number of

Native Hawaiian filmmakers, Kirk has

faithfully carried on the legacy of her

grandfather in that she has inherited

his love of storytelling through film.

As she stated when explaining her

experience of viewing film footage

taken by her grandfather over a period

of three decades, “I see the world

through his eyes, through the lens of

the camera. I see the things that were

important to him.” We can also see

what is important to Kirk through

the work she has produced over the

years. Although Homealani is the filmmaker’s

most recent project—a project

twenty years in the making—Kirk has

directed, produced, written, or been

involved in some capacity in the making

of numerous documentaries, talk

shows, and series.

Homealani is rich with archival

materials and interviews that

illuminate not only the life of the

filmmaker’s grandfather but also a

bygone era in Hawai‘i’s history. It

would be a worthwhile addition to

courses focused on Hawaiian history

and Pacific Islands studies, as well

as providing valuable inspiration to

Native Hawaiians interested in telling

their own family stories through film.

And perhaps some such inspired individuals

will consider submitting their

filmic narratives for inclusion in the

next ‘Oiwi Film Festival for

for 2012.

Marata Tamaira

Honolulu, Hawaii

Contemporary Pacific Review

University of Hawaii Press

Manoa, O'ahu