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


“Waikiki,” is the primary narrative characteristic 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 evening, Kea drives off mad and by chance 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 ladies 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 house. She is handled badly by males and even teased by a gaggle of fellows at a diner, whom shames them for his or her lack of sympathy.

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

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

Since your movie is the primary narrative characteristic 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 attempting 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 unbiased research 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.,” taking pictures Vietnam Warfare scenes right here from my roof. It was so intriguing; it piqued my curiosity to work in movie. You would be educated to work within the trade, however that does not result in directing.

There are lots of nice documentaries by Hawaiian filmmakers and social difficulty movies. However it’s robust to make a movie when you must meet day-to-day wants in one of the crucial costly cities in america. 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 needed to inform to your characteristic debut?

Indigenous Hawaiians aren’t simply residents. We have now 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 principle theme is that as a Hawaiian, being disconnected from the land or tradition — as after 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 little one of the earth mom and father and was stillborn. The second little one was Hawaiian, in order that ties us to the land; the well being of the land dictates the well being of the individuals. When persons are dislocated from their land, they’ve psychological well being points, dependancy, and abuse. 

What observations do you’ve 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 specifically however on this planet basically?

There’s intergenerational trauma. The monarchy was overthrown and stripped individuals of language and values — that’s abuse. If you find yourself not related to the land, and one other system exploits land and labor, in that system, you possibly can solely be a servant. Until you’re 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 vital for me as an Indigenous filmmaker that individuals worth what we are saying. The factors in “Waikiki” aren’t simply digestible. Tourism and army are the important thing industries right here, and we do not discuss how we’re utilizing our land and sources in sustainable methods. It is very important have these conversations. Individuals thought I used to be taking pictures 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 below are solely getting worse. I shot the movie in an industrial neighborhood of transition. There are at all times development buildings within the background.  

It is cheaper to stay nearly anyplace else. Las Vegas and San Francisco are inexpensive. 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 other people can afford to purchase homes in the event that they work on units as crew. However to make a characteristic 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 choices 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 part is nice on the finish. That is not actual life. I am involved in individuals’s journey, and that is not at all times 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 the perfect choices. 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 reminiscences 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’ll see a special 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 suppose it is about psychosis. I feel it is vital for individuals to search out the story inside themselves and see their needs, fears, and hopes. We have now 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 — the way to current these layers with out being too on the nostril.

You present some touristy elements of Hawai’i, however are way 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 have to know to understand your movie?

That was the problem with making the movie. How a lot is important 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 persons 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.  

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

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