“Hawai’i is marketed as a paradise . . . however issues are solely getting worse”

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Danielle Zalopany in "Waikiki"
Danielle Zalopany in “Waikiki”

Danielle Zalopany in “Waikiki” Island Movie Group

This text initially appeared right here on Salon.com

“Waikiki,” is the primary narrative function written and directed by a native Hawaiian. Filmmaker Christopher Kahunahana’s drama is bold and ambiguous, and that’s what makes it so auspicious. He traces the downslide of Kea (Danielle Zalopany), an indigenous lady whose smile as she dances for vacationers masks her very actual despair. 

Kea is residing in her van to keep away from her abusive boyfriend, Branden (Jason Quinn). When the couple has a battle one night time, Kea drives off mad and by accident hits Wo (Peter Shinkoda) a homeless man. Her troubles are compounded after her van will get towed. As Kea’s state of affairs worsens, she is haunted by her traumatic childhood and suffers hallucinations.

“Waikiki” addresses the marginalization and psychological fragility of girls like Kea in society. Regardless of having three jobs to get the money to pay for a spot to stay, she can not qualify for an condominium. She is handled badly by males and even teased by a gaggle of men at a diner, whom shames them for his or her lack of sympathy.

Whereas the movie options beautiful imagery of the island and scenes that emphasize the traditions and music of Hawai’i, a lot of “Waikiki” exhibits the gritty underbelly as Kea and Wo eke out a troublesome life on the streets on this island paradise. 

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Kahunahana spoke with Salon in regards to the movie forward of its premiere on the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Movie Pageant.

Since your movie is the primary narrative function written and directed by native Hawaiian, what are you able to say in regards to the Hawaiian movie trade and your path to changing into a filmmaker?

I have been making an attempt to make movies for 30 years. I made a few quick movies. I went to College of Hawai’i and there wasn’t a movie program. I did an impartial examine diploma, doing theatre and writing, and manufacturing lessons. However now there may be an academy for inventive media that does movie, animation, and video video games, so of us now can get nice coaching. Hawai’i is a Hollywood backdrop. I labored on a crew after watching “Magnum P.I.,” capturing Vietnam Conflict scenes right here from my roof. It was so intriguing; it piqued my curiosity to work in movie. You may be educated to work within the trade, however that does not result in directing.

There are loads of nice documentaries by Hawaiian filmmakers and social concern movies. But it surely’s robust to make a movie when it’s important to meet day-to-day wants in probably the most costly cities in the USA. Half of the people who find themselves Hawaiian stay in diaspora, as a result of they cannot afford to purchase a home right here. A median dwelling right here is priced at $850,000. Everybody works two to 3 jobs. It is a bittersweet expertise to premiere in New York and be sitting in Hawai’i in my underwear. 

You depict the travails of an indigenous lady who experiences psychological well being points and abuse. Why was this narrative the story you wished to inform in your function debut?

Indigenous Hawaiians usually are not simply residents. We now have Hawaiian blood. My kupuna, my ancestors — their bones are within the floor in Hawai’i, and they’re indigenous. They’re figuratively nature as a lot as my grandma. That’s a part of our on a regular basis life rising up right here. The primary theme is that as a Hawaiian, being disconnected from the land or tradition — as once we lose land or tradition — we lose our psychological well being. It is an allegory. The water within the movie begins as an ocean, goes to a waterfall, after which right into a stream. Waikiki was constructed on a kalo farm; kalo is our staple. Haloa was the primary baby of the earth mom and father and was stillborn. The second baby was Hawaiian, in order that ties us to the land; the well being of the land dictates the well being of the individuals. When individuals are dislocated from their land, they’ve psychological well being points, habit, and abuse. 

What observations do you have got about the way in which indigenous Hawaiians are handled, the way in which girls are abused, and the way in which the financial inequality is seen in Hawai’i particularly however on this planet basically?

There may be intergenerational trauma. The monarchy was overthrown and stripped individuals of language and values — that’s abuse. If you find yourself not linked to the land, and one other system exploits land and labor, in that system, you possibly can solely be a servant. Until you might be rich, everybody who grows up right here experiences this. I labored as a busboy and valet within the vacationer trade and did not make minimal wage.

What about being an indigenous filmmaker?

It is necessary for me as an Indigenous filmmaker that individuals worth what we are saying. The factors in “Waikiki” usually are not simply digestible. Tourism and army are the important thing industries right here, and we do not discuss how we’re utilizing our land and assets in sustainable methods. It is very important have these conversations. Individuals thought I used to be capturing myself within the foot by speaking in regards to the difficulties Hawaiians have, however that is actuality. Kea relies on individuals I do know. Hawai’i is marketed as a paradise, and everybody buys into it. However issues listed here are solely getting worse. I shot the movie in an industrial neighborhood of transition. There are all the time development buildings within the background.  

It is cheaper to stay virtually anyplace else. Las Vegas and San Francisco are cheaper. There are not any tech jobs right here. The inventive trade is rising, however it’s not New Zealand the place the federal government funds movies. Movies are nice for our financial system, and folks can afford to purchase homes in the event that they work on units as crew. However to make a function I needed to sacrifice these issues to make a narrative about Hawai’i. However It is altering. There are younger hungry Hawaiian filmmakers. There is a momentum. 

“Waikiki” takes some narrative dangers with how Kea makes some troublesome selections and has moments of actual despair. Are you able to discuss her psychology?

I by no means was one to be drawn to hero movies or the place every thing is nice on the finish. That is not actual life. I am thinking about individuals’s journey, and that is not all the time linear. They’re each heroes and villains within the story. I would like the viewers to drag for her even when she’s not making one of the best selections. When Kea is with Wo, I would like individuals pondering, “Why is she with him?” I would like them to query her sanity, however I additionally need them to root for her to succeed. The primary half is in actual time however because the story progresses, we spend extra time together with her recollections and goals, and I experimented extra within the second half. 

There are some attention-grabbing surrealistic touches: a ringing telephone, and a picture of Kea as a youth together with her grandmother within the Pacific Ocean. How did you provide you with these symbols, and would you like viewers to connect that means to them?

As an artist, I’ve my very own reality within the story, however I knew that when individuals watch the movie, it is all subjective. It is a mirror held as much as somebody and what they see is what comes from their private connection to the story; they are going to see a distinct movie. I would like them to see a reality within the movie that aligns with how they see the world and make them have empathy for others. I would like them to think about the story for themselves. Native individuals see the story as violence towards indigenous girls, however the medical doctors who see it assume it is about psychosis. I feel it is necessary for individuals to search out the story inside themselves and see their needs, fears, and hopes. We now have a phrase, koana, that’s for issues which have subtext or a number of meanings. And that’s one thing I labored rather a lot on — learn how to current these layers with out being too on the nostril.

You present some touristy points of Hawai’i, however are much more centered on the native tradition, traditions, folklore and music. Are you able to clarify what of us unfamiliar with the island and its tradition must know to understand your movie?

That was the problem with making the movie. How a lot is critical to incorporate earlier than it is didactic. I would like individuals to attach emotionally after which analysis issues on their very own. I needed to arrange individuals’s perceptions of Hawai’i after which swoop right into a close-up of Kea’s face dancing for vacationers after which present her in a karaoke bar the place individuals are shopping for her time. I am displaying the duality of the character’s life, which is the truth lots of people face right here.  

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“Waikiki” screens Oct. 29-30 on the digital Los Angeles Asian Pacific Movie Pageant and is the closing night time movie on the Hawaiian Worldwide Movie Pageant, Nov. 25-29.

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