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Making The Haumana

That deep-seated personal connection with his topic found Woolford channeling his own funds into the micro-budget production. Most important, the community came together, lending their talents and resources to make the film a reality. Hawaii entertainers Marlene Sai and Kelly Hu have roles, while ukulele instrumentation was scored by composer George “Gibi” del Barrio. Robert Cazimero, Lehua Kalima and Nick Navales all performed original songs, and Cazimero, along with kumu hula Lanakila Casupang, choreographed the dances. Woolford himself wrote many of the songs, and he has a cameo dance late in the film.

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Keo Woolford. Photo by Nathalie Walker

The Haumana celebrated its world premiere in Hollywood a year ago, before undergoing some additional tweaking and being re-released last October at the Hawaii International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative. From there, it has been gaining nationwide recognition and awards in close to 100 film houses and festivals across the states. Screenings also have been scheduled in New Zealand, Japan, Mexico and Spain. Woolford attends as many screenings as he can, staying for Q&A sessions. Audience enthusiasm has been overwhelming, from folks donning their best Hawaiian hats and muumuu, to those so moved by the film that everyone from kids to grandparents zealously throng toward Woolford for a poster, an autograph, to tell him that their sons plan to become hula dancers.

“I’m so blessed to make a living doing what I love,” says Woolford. “The reaction has been so much deeper and more profound than I was expecting. To see how it’s affecting people and to read comments in social media is humbling. I feel really honored to have this voice. It makes me want to continue to do this work and evolve and get better.”

In his free time, Woolford gets together with family, including his older brother and sister, as well as niece Raeceen, former Miss Hawaii and Rainbow Wahine volleyball player, who just made Woolford a grand uncle. There’s also dad Dwight who, local-style, still insists on driving Keo to his many engagements whenever Keo is finally in town. For some R&R, Woolford’s favorite get-away-from-it-all outlet is, well, the movies, whether a blockbuster or a humble indie film.

Of course, there’s always his No. 1 pastime, dancing hula, a substantial commitment, what with practice and performances. He was on stage in 2005 when his halau won overall honors at Merrie Monarch, and he’ll be there again in 2015, being that kumu Cazimero enters his halau in the competition every 10 years. Na Kamalei also took the stage last year non-competitively, in honor of the festival’s 50th anniversary.

Though Woolford “settled” back in Hawaii four years ago, he has the travel bug and a number of projects up his sleeve at any given moment. He recently appeared in Act of Valor (where he kills the main character), and he has a recurring role as Sgt. James Chang on Hawaii Five-0. Coming up, he’s set to play the lead in a feature film called Kuleana by Hawaii filmmaker Brian Kohne. He’s also directing a pilot drama-comedy in L.A., The Lees of Los Angeles, about an Asian-American family struggling with generational gaps and cultural differences. You can bet the wheels already are turning for his next writing-directing initiative.

Meanwhile, Woolford is gearing up for a June 27 party (see haumanamovie.com for details), where he’ll announce The Haumana DVD release date slotted for this summer.