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The Art of Film

Hawaii’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 Hawaii. These include classics like Bing Crosby’s “Waikiki Wedding” (Oahu), Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” (Kauai & Oahu), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Kauai), “King Kong” (Kauai), “The Karate Kid Part II” (Oahu), and “Waterworld” (Island of Hawaii).

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

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

Beyond the commercial success of these hit shows, Hawaii 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 Hawaii, 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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii” section to its program to support Hawaii’s best talent working in the islands today. These films shine a spotlight on Hawaii stories not often told.

Other annual film festivals in the Islands include the Maui Film Festival, Made in Hawaii 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 Hawaii Filmmakers Collective, continue to foster and encourage local filmmakers.

Notable Hawaii Films and Filmmakers to Watch

“The Haumana”
Directed by the late Hawaii-born filmmaker Keo Woolford, “The Haumana” is about a Waikiki luau 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 Hawaii. kumuhina.com

“The Descendants”
Based on a novel by Hawaii-born Kaui 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 Hawaii International Film Festival, “Moananuiakea: One Ocean, One People, One Canoe” is a feature documentary about the voyaging canoe Hokulea’s Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage to rally humanity to protect our Island Earth. hokulea.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