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Hawai'i Films Gain Confidence and Traction

Director Chris Yogi is one of the first UH Academy for Creative Media grads, and a Sundance Institute fellow. Here, in a 2015 Director's Lab.

The celebrated Sundance Film Festival is online today through the weekend. It’s an opportunity for Hawai'i film lovers to check out national premieres and artist talks, and Hawai'i is highlighted this year for special behind-the-scenes programming. This comes at a time when local filmmakers are changing the stories they tell and the way they tell them.


Credit QWave
Kumu Hina and QWaves production Kapaemahu is up for Oscar consideration (the long list for voters to decide who gets on the short list) for Best Hawaii Animated Short.

The Hawai’i you see on screen these days is undergoing a makeover shaped by local filmmakers. That’s according to Georja Skinner, chief of Creative Industries under the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Skinner says distributors are waking up to Hawai'i's portfolio of film and digital media credits.


"The breadth of content that can be shared from Hawaii to major markets is just at the tip of the iceberg now."


Skinner says the sector has matured, with quality work coming out of the Academy for Creative Media, Ohina programs, the state Creative Lab, Pacific Islanders in Communications and other programs.


That maturity is more than technical, says Taylour Chang, Film Curator at the Doris Duke Theatre. She says surveying Hawai'i's output, documentary and non-fiction work was more prevalent early on, and there is an evolution underway.


"Dealing with trauma in storytelling, it is about calling attention to the really hard truths in our community that people would rather look away from. \

 rd 2021. Explore Hawai'i's film history and its relationship to values shared in the Islands. Programs available online deal with Native Hawaiian cinema, Black visuality in the Pacific, the foundations of local cinema and its roots in land based activism.


Skinner agrees, methods of storytelling are opening up, and that is opening up markets.

"Now we're seeing more narrative works and comedy works that are also distributed on Amazon, Amazon Prime, some others that are teeing up on Netflix, I believe Ciara Lacey has had some exposure there."


Ciara Lacy, who was part of the Sundance Indigenous Program, is screening "This is The Way We Rise," at Sundance this year. Her film follows Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio.


Credit Noe Tanigawa / HPR
Georja Skinner, Chief of Creative Industries showing digital co-working capabilities a the State's Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Kaka'ako

 Skinner says the media  industry is realizing Hawai'i is not just a location--she's supplied a major studio with writers from the Islands and fielded inquiries to perhaps bundle some of Hawai'i's really diverse online content for distribution.


"We are at a significant point now where what we need to do as a state is help get underneath these great talented people and be able to provide them with the infrastructure they need, meaning small studio spaces, collaborative work spaces, anything we can help get their work completed and get it out there."


As these products hit consumers, visitors to Hawai'i may change their view of the Islands.


"Now our filmmakers are practicing what it means to world-build through narrative fiction. They're creating their own worlds. That's ultimately really exciting to see, with not just one filmmaker, but with a whole community of filmmakers."


The Doris Duke celebrates local filmmaking as part of the Sundance Festival through February 3, 2021. Hawai’i has history of struggling with depictions of itself. See how you feel about "Finding Ohana," a feature generating a lot of industry buzz. It's premiering January 29, 2021 on Netflix.


Mahalo Georja for compiling these links if you'd like to get to know some recent releases better:

Chris Yogi is one of the first UH Academy for Creative Media grads and a Sundance Institute fellow. His feature, A Simple Man, is screening in the 2021 Sundance Festival.


Kumu Hina and QWaves production Kapaemahu is up for Oscar consideration (the long list for voters to decide who gets on the short list) for Best Hawaii Animated Short.


Chris Kahunahana's feature, Wailkiki, got multiple awards from global festivals and great mainstream entertainment media press.


Chris Yogi and his Sundance Feature - A SIMPLE MAN. See mainstream media review here:


Ciara Lacy's Doc Short info 

Press Kit:


Film Stills:

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