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Hawaiʻi International Film Festival opens at Waimea Theater with movies with Kauaʻi ties

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South Korean spies race to confront an assassin in “Hunt.” Estranged brothers inherit their father’s bathhouse in Japan’s “Yudo.” A man revives the art of celestial navigation and is knighted for his service to the Māori people in “Whetū Mārama.”

Some of Asia-Pacific cinema’s best new offerings are coming to Kaua‘i’s only silver screen, when the 42nd annual Hawai‘i International Film Festival opens at the Historic Waimea Theater on Nov. 17.

Actor Lee Jung-jae (“Squid Game”) steps into the director’s chair for “Hunt,” a bloody action-thriller following two spies on the trail of an assassin in 1980s South Korea. Photo Courtesy: Hawai‘i International Film Festival

“We’re really excited to be able to share a window to the world for our island community,” theater volunteer Puni Patrick said.

While the local event celebrates cinema from throughout the Pacific, it is grounded close to home. Several films have been selected for their close ties to Kaua‘i, including Hawai‘i poet laureate Kealoha’s debut film “The Story of Everything,” which will be shown Nov. 20.

“Kaua‘i is one of my favorite places on the planet,” Kealoha said.

“We’re doing a question-and-answer session after the screening. I’m really looking forward to talking story.”

The State of Hawai‘i’s first poet laureate, Kealoha, traveled to Kaua‘i to shoot a pivotal moment in his new film “The Story of Everything.” Photo Credit: Story of Everything press kit
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“The Story of Everything” is an adaptation of Kealoha’s stage production of the same name, which was funded by a community grant from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. The nonprofit Engaging the Senses Foundation funded “The Story of Everything’s” film production.

The nearly two-hour piece, conceived when the poet and MIT nuclear physics graduate learned he was to become a father, melds science and Hawaiian culture to describe the beginning of the universe and humanity’s potential future.

A pivotal moment in the film was shot on the Garden Isle.

“When we needed a place to shoot that particular scene, it just made sense to do it on Kaua‘i, because it’s so magical out there,” said Kealoha, who lives in Honolulu.

The Kauaʻi scene depicts the poet and his real-life child – now a young boy – on a Kapa‘a beach. The child asks: “Where do we come from?” It prompts his father to deliver a nearly two-hour poem beginning with the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

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Kealoha’s performance, recorded before a sold-out theater audience in 2019, is accompanied by live music, dance, visual arts and a recitation of the Kumulipo creation chant.

The piece, while grounded in the deep past, eventually becomes an exploration of one of the present’s greatest issues – global climate change.

“We follow all of the critical steps that were necessary to create human life … Progressing a billion years at a time,” Kealoha said.

“We’ve been following this story scientifically. … I had to think, ‘OK, what happens next? What is our future?ʻ ” he continued. “From a scientific perspective, I really wanted to address the issue of global climate change. So we went ahead and tackled that idea in terms of possibilities for the future, as well as solutions.”

Lindsay Watson portrays Pi’ilani, whose memoirs are the basis of the new historical drama “The Wind & the Reckoning.” Photo Courtesy: Hawai‘i International Film Festival

Other films scheduled for the festival at the Historic Waimea Theater include “The Wind & the Reckoning” and “Ka Pō.”

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“The Wind & the Reckoning,” while shot on Hawai‘i Island, tells a story inspired by Kaua‘i history: that of local cowboy Ko’olau, his son Kalei and wife Pi’ilani, who became folk heroes when confronted by a leprosy (Hansen’s disease) outbreak and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.

A young Polynesian woman burns down her abusive boyfriend’s home and flees to the mountains of Kaua‘i in “Ka Pō.” Photo Courtesy: Hawai‘i International Film Festival

“Ka Pō” follows a native Hawaiian woman facing drug addiction and a troubled relationship. She runs deep into the mountains of Kaua‘i, where she encounters the voices of her ancestors, an ancient waterfall and a mythical creature named Yahdella.

“It’s so awesome to have different types of films, not just the big box office films, come and play here on Kaua‘i,” Patrick said.

“We would love to see the theater packed with people for each film.”

More information about the 42nd annual Hawai‘i Film Festival at the Historic Waimea Theater, including ticket information and a complete list of featured full-length and short films, can be found here.

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a freelance journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
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