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The Art of Film

Hawaiʻi’s status as an unparalleled destination with fascinating cultures and natural beauty beyond compare hasn’t been missed by the TV and film industries. Since the early days of cinema in the early 1900s, over 100 feature films have been shot in Hawaiʻi. These include classics like Bing Crosby’s “Waikīkī Wedding” (Oʻahu), Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaiʻi” (Kauaʻi & Oʻahu), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Kauaʻi), “King Kong” (Kauaʻi), “The Karate Kid Part II” (Oʻahu), and “Waterworld” (Island of Hawaiʻi).

More recent Hollywood films include “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” (Oʻahu), “Snatched” (Kauaʻi, Oʻahu), “Kong: Skull Island” (Island of Hawaiʻi, Kauaʻi, Maui, Oʻahu), “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” (Kauaʻi & Oʻahu), and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Oʻahu).

Memorable TV series have also been shot in Hawaiʻi, including “Lost” and two iterations of “Magnum P.I.” But nothing captured and sustained the imagination, of both locals and visitors, quite like “Hawaiʻi Five-O”. The original Five-O aired from 1968 to 1980, introducing millions of viewers to the islands. It also introduced many Hawaiʻi residents to film and television production, building the foundation for a successful industry for decades to come. In 2010, a rebooted “Hawaiʻi Five-O” hit the airwaves with more kamaʻāina (Hawaiʻi locals) in front of and behind the camera.

Beyond the commercial success of these hit shows, Hawaiʻi is also home to a healthy community of filmmakers committed to telling local stories. Through narrative features, shorts or documentaries, they showcase unique perspectives found when you fearlessly look deeper into Hawaiʻi, its people and their cultures. Thanks to their success, there’s a strong desire to see more of these types of films.

Since its inception in 1981, the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival (HIFF) has grown to attract 70,000 film enthusiasts every year with the cinematic talent of filmmakers from Asia and the Pacific. In addition, HIFF added a “Made in Hawaiʻi” section to its program to support Hawaiʻi’s best talent working in the islands today. These films shine a spotlight on Hawaiʻi stories not often told.

Other annual film festivals in the Islands include the Maui Film Festival, Made in Hawaiʻi Film Festival, Waimea Ocean Film Festival and Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. The Honolulu Museum of Art also regularly screens independent, documentary and international films at its Doris Duke Theatre. Programs such as the Sundance Institute’s Native Lab and Feature Film Program and local organizations, like the Hawaiʻi Filmmakers Collective, continue to foster and encourage local filmmakers.

Notable Hawaiʻi Films and Filmmakers to Watch

“The Haumana”
Directed by the late Hawai‘i-born filmmaker Keo Woolford, “The Haumana” is about a Waikīkī lūʻau show dancer, who’s appointed successor of a high school boy’s hula class when their kumu hula (hula teacher) passes away. The journey teaches him life lessons just as much as the students learn from him.

“Kumu Hina”
In this documentary, the story of a transgender woman, Hina, is told through the lens of this Native Hawaiian kumu (teacher), as she struggles to maintain her cultural values in the Westernized society of Hawaiʻi. kumuhina.com

“The Descendants”
Based on a novel by Hawai‘i-born Kau‘i Hart Hemmings, this 2011 drama stars George Clooney as a man whose relatives are pressuring him to sell a land trust worth hundreds of millions of dollars, in the midst of a family crisis. foxsearchlight.com/thedescendants

“Out of State”
This 2017 documentary directed by Native Hawaiian filmmaker Ciara Lacy follows the story of two incarcerated Native Hawaiians who have been sent thousands of miles away to a private prison in Arizona, and are using Hawaiian culture to rehabilitate themselves. outofstatefilm.com

“Moananuiakea: One Ocean, One People, One Canoe”
Premiering at the 2018 Hawaiʻi International Film Festival, “Moananuiakea: One Ocean, One People, One Canoe” is a feature documentary about the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa’s Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage to rally humanity to protect our Island Earth. Hōkūleʻa.com/moananuiakea-film/">Hōkūleʻa.com/moananuiakea-film

Chris Kahunahana is a Native Hawaiian writer and director and a former Sundance Institute Native Lab fellow. His film, set to release in 2019, tells the story of a homeless Native Hawaiian woman who works as a hula dancer by day and a hostess at a seedy bar by night. It’s the first fictional feature by a Native Hawaiian produced through Sundance Labs. waikikithemovie.com