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Distinctly Honolulu: The First Cultural Animation Film Festival

Adamu Waziri

Cartoons once dismissed as filler or just for laughs, are big business now.  Animations can shape our view of the world and now, hand in hand with virtual reality and digital gaming, animations are being used to preserve and perpetuate traditional culture.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.

Credit George Siosi Samuels
Tales from Nanumea: Te Lima Directed by George Siosi Samuels. 2 min. Tuvaluan. This is the story of an ancient Nanumean (Tuvaluan) power that is unique to only a select few families. Over time, it has become both elusive and mystical.

What could be the world’s first Cultural Animation Film Festival happens at the Doris Duke Theatreat the Honolulu Museum of Art, May 20 through 24, including special programming on May 21st , 2017, Family Sunday.  

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
Taylour Chang, director of the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum. Chang says people are hungry to discuss what it means to represent culture in animation.

Worldwide, Frozen tops the box office list—it has grossed 1,274,235,000 since 2013.  Minions, then Toy Story 3 are next.  The Boss Baby is the highest grossing animation of 2017 so far, at $444 million worldwide.  Only one animation from the 20th century is in the top ten:  The Lion King, 1994, rates number six at 987 million gross worldwide.   These represent a tiny fraction of all animations that are produced every year, many with very different objectives.

Taylour Chang is director of the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum:  We have many film festivals throughout the year but it is the first time we've had a festival that’s solely dedicated to animation.  And we’re really proud to have this festival specifically focus on cultural representation in animation, which is in itself, its own unique genre.  It brings up representation in film, which has been sort of a hot topic, especially after the release of Moana recently.  People have been hungry to address what it means to represent culture and animation as an esthetic. 

Chang:  First off, animation is captured from the mind of the artist.  That in and of itself offers this very limitless landscape for how to tackle representation, particularly representation of different cultures.   We have been conditioned through western animation and certain filmmakers within animation that have established certain motifs and visuals that we recognize.  For instance, Pixar has a certain look, Disney animation has a certain look to it, Japanese animation has a certain look to it.  That has subconsciously and consciously influenced how we perceive animation.  When we’re talking about this broader scope of culture and animation, there a lot of other ways to represent cultures beyond just those established norms that we’re used to.  A lot of the films that Michael and Mary have isolated and put together within this festival represent a broader spectrum of animation esthetic that I think will open people’s eyes to how animation can be used as a form of cultural preservation.

Laura MarguliesRolling Down Like Pele. Directed by Laura Margulies. 5 min. Hawaiian. This film mixes animation using oil paintings, water colors, and pencil drawings with live action to explore the world of traditional hula and chant. The film was inspired in part by Sissy Kaio and her h?lau while participating in a dance on film fellowship at UCLA.
Credit Laura Margulies

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Michael Ceballos owns Twiddle productions, and is co-organizer of the Cultural Animation Film Festival, or CAFF.  He is also creator of the animation, Maisa, the Chamoru Girl Who Saves Guahan, or Guam.  He says  he saw his animation as part of a cultural renaissance in Guam.

Ceballos:  There was a lot of excitement, there was a lot of sharing of information, personal stories, one on one, that hadn’t been talked about for years.  Especially the history of Guam and how people have come and basically decimated a lot of the population.  

So, going into it, we knew this was something very important.  and then for the fact that we were trying to go back to the pre-contact language as much as possible and strip out all the Spanish, that was something that hadn’t been done before, ever.  It was the first time animation and their language was being used.  We just opened, absorbed, and we changed a lot of things to make it fit properly.

noe tanigawa
Credit noe tanigawa
(l-r) Michael Ceballos owns Twiiddle productions, an animation and multi media studio. Mary Hattori, is Chamoru from Guam, She's Outreach Director for the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at UH M?noa. They are co-organizers of the first Cultural Animation Film Festival at the Doris Duke Theatre.

Mary Hattori, is Chamoru from Guam.   She’s Outreach Director for the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at UH M?noa and co-organizer of CAFF.  She's seen Ceballos' film, Maisa.

Hattori:  It was like being back home because the bodies and the faces, it’s the Chamoru ideal of beauty.  The bay, looks like the bay, with the colors of the sunset, and seeing the English subtitles is very powerful.  Even more powerful for me, I realized, the birds I was seeing and hearing were the birds of my ancestors.  Many of the native birds were extinct by the time I was growing up on Guam.  Oh my gosh, those are the real sounds!  And I found out from Michael they actually used archival audio.  So it’s not just about survival, it’s revival.  And giving me an experience could never have.

Ceballos:  Animation is very special.  It draws people in, it draws children in.  They just are drawn to it. 

Chang:  Different forms of representation function differently and animation, through the medium of an artist’s hand, and paintbrush and colors, can communicate actually a lot more effectively than something hyper realistic.

The upcoming Cultural Animation Film Festival offers 37 films, 31 Hawai‘i premieres.  

Ceballos:  And we even have a Maori VR demo game that a young artist has created.  It’s really cool. You play Maui, it’s awesome.  Another one is this gentleman from Australia doing an amazing virtual reality world called virtual Songlines.

Songlines are an aboriginal Australian method of navigation.

Tian CartierNuestra Arma es Nuestra Lengua - Our Weapon is our Tongue Directed by Tian Cartier. 15 min. Pre-Columbian Latin American. A tale of tragedy and rescue through diverse climates and landscapes.
Credit Tian Cartier

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Hattori:  You cannot make live action films that teach people songlines or wayfinding, but we can do this in virtual reality and animation.  The songlines story is about how through songs and through speaking lyrics, and singing lyrics, aborigines navigated their landscape.  So people are seeing virtual reality but they’re learning about this ancient technique.  It’s the first time it’s being shown here.

Ceballos:  Kottura Innovations from Guam, they do augmented reality books.  Theirs is a book that you can use your phone or iPad and it will bring the pages to life.  

Expect a fine outing for the kids at what could be the world's firstCultural Animation Film Festival in the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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