HIFF 2013: Talkin’ About Culture

Topnotch Hawaiian, Asian and European films – more than 200 of them, from 42 countries – along with many of the people who make and star in them are descending on Honolulu through Oct. 20. This year marks Hawaii International Film Festival’s (hiff.org) 33rd anniversary, while also celebrating 100 years of film in Hawaii.


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Tui Asau as Jonny Kealoha in 100 percent locally produced ‘The Haumana’. Photo courtesy of HIFF

Closing the festival Oct. 20 is a film Hawaii has been waiting for: The Haumana. Referencing hula students as a group, The Haumana – screenwriter-director Keo Woolford’s commendable first feature film – explores the traditional roots of Hawaii Nei in opposition to its commercialized image touted across the globe. The all-Hawaii cast, crew and musical score includes Kelly Hu as a tita barkeep and stars Tui Asau as handsome local boy Jonny Kealoha. Jonny has drifted from his boyhood connection with his cultural roots, now spending his days as a Waikiki entertainer who’s constantly had one too many drinks. Fate just may have a way to get him back on track when an honored kumu appoints him instructor to a group of hula students, but they’re not quick to take Mr. Waikiki Wash-up seriously as they prepare for a major hula festival.

Also tackling the dilemma of cultural disconnect within the umbrella of a majority culture is A Leading Man, Oct. 17 and 18. Jack Yang is GQ Qi, who aspires to a serious film role but, instead, along with a core group of other Asian-American men, ends up at audition after demeaning audition. Qi tries out for a role in a TV commercial as goofy, stereotypical character Kung Pao, but his fake Chinese accent isn’t over the top enough for the racist director. Though Leading Man’s bad, white boss versus sincere minority member stereotypes are heavy handed to the point of caricature, Taiwanese-American screenwriter-director Steven J. Kung’s feature debut nevertheless sports prime acting talent in Yang, Heather Mazur as his white casting agent girlfriend, and Tsai Chin as his protective mother.

Finally, among the student showcase (Oct. 19) is smart 10-minute mockumentary, Foliage: Roots of the Tree Barrel by Mid-Pacific Institute senior Adam Simon. “Tree-barreling is skating without the ego and surfing without the agro,” sums up one charismatic expert of the rapidly popular underground sport where, in lieu of surfing, skateboarders “barrel” under overhanging trees for an epic rush. Die-hard barrelers discuss the inherent danger of the sport and fling some generational banter about excelling styles. Simon (who also has a cameo) and his friends are precious as they light up onscreen, seemingly in awe of this fictional culture Simon has created. After a 30-hour editing marathon, all the obligatory surf-culture parody shots are included: slo-mo gliding, hands brushing foliage, camera panning sublimely to the sky, dynamic upside-down shot. Expect to see Simon’s name in big letters down the road.


Talk Story Fest

If duration is a barometer of quality, then 25 years of Talk Story Festival means folks are loving some old-fashioned storytelling. King of Animation Jeff Gere (768-3032, jgere@honolulu.gov) hosts Oct. 18 and 19 at Ala Wai Clubhouse, as Hawaii’s best tale-spinners, and some from the Mainland, entertain families at no cost. Nine creative voices will ring out each night from 6 to 9:30. “We’re long on talent and tales, rich in history, gorgeously staged,” promises Gere. It’s October, so expect spooky – a bit too intense for younger children. (See the lineup at honolulu-parks.com.) In the meantime, get acquainted with Gere as a newly minted Internet sensation. Type “Willie Nelson Hawaii Dance” into any search engine and be prepared to LOL! The clip of Gere dancing prompted some to title him “The most joyful human alive,” while a writer on Daily Dot describes his vivacity: “He shimmies and shakes, he twirls his head and dances in circles. He raises the roof and does something resembling a bit from the ‘Thriller.’ It’s absolutely incredible.” The man’s storytelling is equally fascinating.