I’m writing this blog from the balcony of my room at the amazing Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu where I’m currently staying as part of the 32nd annual Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) while I’m serving on the jury for the Halekulani Golden Orchid Doc award and moderating YOMYOMF’s New Media Academy panel on Saturday.
Yes, it’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it. HIFF’s tagline of “Cinema in Paradise” is certainly accurate.
Of course, regular readers of this blog know that my fellow Offender Anderson is the head of programming for HIFF and he is the man responsible for bringing YOMYOMF to Hawaii. And I have to thank him for not just inviting me to the fest, but for inviting me to be on the doc jury because it’s given me the opportunity to see six great documentary films that I otherwise might not have seen.
In fact, the official winners were announced last night and my fellow doc jurors (filmmaker Lisette Marie Flanary and Honolulu Film Office Commissioner Walea Constantinau) and I selected Sasha Friedlander’s film When Heaven Meets Hell as our choice.
Friedlander’s work is an incredibly powerful look at the lives of sulfur miners and their families in Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen. Considered one of the most physically difficult jobs anywhere, the miners carry up to 200 pounds of sulfur rocks from the volcanic crater and up a steep mountain path for only a few dollars a day.
Beautifully shot and crafted, the film took me into a world I didn’t know existed but the stories of the people who live this life were instantly identifiable to me. These were the stories of people who worked to achieve a better life for their families—their children and, in some cases, their grandchildren. As the child of immigrants who came to America for that very reason, the film resonated with me.
But all six films in competition had that quality—each took me into a new and unknown world, but did so in a way that was “universal” and relatable. That made choosing the “winner” a difficult process and my fellow jurors and I deliberated for hours to make sure we made the best choice possible, but honestly, I would’ve been happy had any of the other films won. They were all worthy choices.
However, the one thing that did make deliberations easier was that it was done over an amazing meal on the beachside patio at the Halekulani’s Orchids Restaurant. How can you complain when you’re discussing movies with two insightful colleagues while dining on the best lobster I can remember having with this view in front of you:
And of course their world famous coconut cake:
Thank you, Anderson and HIFF, for the culinary experience. But back to the topic at hand. I want to say a few words about the five other docs in competition since they are all worth seeing.
Call me Kuchu (Directors: Malika Zouhali-Worrall, Katherine Fairfax Wright)
The story of David Kato, Uganda’s “first” openly gay man, and his fellow LGBT (or “kuchu”) activists working to fight Uganda’s homophobic laws including a new “anti-homosexual” bill that would mean death for HIV-positive gay men and imprisonment for anyone who “knows” someone who is gay and doesn’t report them. In 2011, Kao was murdered in his home as a result of his activist efforts.
Getting Up: The Tempt One Story (D: Caskey Ebeling)
Tony “Tempt One” Quan was a legendary graffiti artist/activist in Los Angeles until he was stricken with ALS rendering him unable to move, speak or even breathe. Confined to a hospital bed and only able to communicate by blinking his eyes, this is the story of how philanthropist Mick Ebeling led an effort to create a open source DIY device (the Eyewriter) to allow Tempt One to once again create art with just his eyes.
Harana (D: Benito Bautista)
The film follows U.S.-based guitarist Florante Aguilar as he returns to re-discover the lost art of harana—a traditional music form involving young men serenading women outside their windows. We meet three older gentlemen—all self-taught master haranistas—who unite to play their music and also record an album to preserve this beautiful but dying art.
Room 237 (D: Rodney Ascher)
The ultimate doc for film geeks and fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece The Shining. Five different scholars/fans discuss their unique theories about what The Shining is really about (the genocide of Indians, the Nazis in Europe, sex, etc…) reading into the symbols and minute details contained in the film to come up with some interesting perspectives. A commentary on contemporary film criticism as much as it is about the hidden messages of The Shining.
Seeds of Hope/Na Kupu Mana’Olana (D: Danny Miller)
A detailed look at the food and agricultural industry in Hawaii and the issues of sustainability. Whereas once, the Hawaiian people were able to live off the land, today 85% of the food consumed on the island is shipped in leading to problems ranging from the disappearance of Hawaii’s own farming industry to the high expense of food because of the difficulty of importing it in. The film talks to people on both sides of the issue and offers possible solutions to the problem.
The awards were presented last night at the Governor’s mansion and it was great to meet my fellow filmmakers face to face and talk about their work.
But it’s not all work—we are in paradise after all. No visit to HIFF would be complete with a karaoke session led by Mr. Anderson Le and on this particular occasion, he closed down the joint at 4 AM:
I’ll never listen to Abba in quite the same way again.
Finally, if you are out in Hawaii, reminder that YOMYOMF will be presenting our free New Media Academy panel on Saturday afternoon at 4PM. You can get all the info and tickets here so come out and join us for an informal but hopefully informative discussion about all things YouTube and creating content for the internet.
Mahalo! Now time for a short work break: