The 37th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival presented by Halekulani, or HIFF for short, is underway. It will go on until November 12 on Oahu and November 16 -19 on Kauai and the Big Island. Festival organizers selected a total of 160 films from 45 countries from the thousands that were submitted. Several have never been screened publicly before and will be having their world premieres at this festival. Some are old films that are being shown again to honor their makers.
This year’s film and event offering are keeping up with the reason why the HIFF was created some 37 years ago. It is often recounted that the first HIFF started as a project of the East West Center, an organization whose enduring mission is to strengthen relations and understanding among peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States.
With so many good films, HIFF highlights are really in the eyes and soul of each viewer.
“Go for Broke: An Origin Story”, this year’s closing film, resonated right away with local audiences. Tickets for said gala screening sold out right away! The HIFF organizers added another screening time, November 12 at 8pm at the Dole Cannery B theatre, to meet the public’s sentiment. Earlier this summer, the local KITV news reported about the film’s deep local ties. The setting takes place in the 1940s and explores the defining times for several ROTC students of the University of Hawaii who later one became members of the renowned 442nd regimental combat team of the US Army. One of these men was the late Senator Daniel Inouye. Hawaii’s own Stacey Hayashi led the writing of the story and production of the film. The main cast and crew are graduates of the University of Hawaii’s Academy for Creative Media. Even friends and acquaintances participated as extras. The filming locations are familiar places, like the Hawaii Plantation Village and the Iolani Palace.
Meanwhile, “Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko (Those Long Haired Nights)” is the only film from the Philippines. It was recently screened at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. The screening here will be its North American premiere. It will also be screened later at the Thesaloniki International Film Festival in Greece. The film explores the aspirations and lifestyles of three transgender individuals who work in Manila’s red light district. Gerardo Calagui is credited for directing this film. Bradley Liew, who directed and brought “Singing in the Graveyard” last year, is credited for cinematography. The screening time will be on November 4, starting at 6:45pm at the Dole Cannery Regal Theatre.
It was pleasant to read in the HIFF program guide that Dr. Patricia Espiritu Halagao of the University of Hawaii College of Education will be participating in this year’s HIFF. She did not produce nor direct any film or star in any of them. Rather, she is one of the Humanities Scholars in the HIFF’s Film for Thought program. Known more to us for her activism in Filipino-American issues and local education, her participation is a reminder that she has much more to offer to our island community. She is participating particularly to lead and guide the post-screening discussion on the film, “Point of No Return.” The film chronicles the adventures of the Solar Impulse 2, the aircraft that flew around the world using solar energy only and whose journey included an unplanned ten-month stay in Hawaii in 2015.
“Film for Thought” films are presented in collaboration with the Hawaii Council for Humanities to inspire critical discourse and community dialogue. They were selected because they all resonated with the theme, “Common Good.” Anna Page, Co-Director of Programming at HIFF, explained that the films for this particular program are also selected based on what will have the most relevance and greatest chance of having an impact on viewers.
She explained that the films that were selected this year happen to be beautiful stories and powerful stories of individuals who strive with passion despite all odds. They are films that can inspire and empower individuals. They are touching, heartfelt, and at times saddening.
“The Point of No Return” highlights two men who want to change the world and went on the incredible solar-powered journey to promote clean energy.
“Becoming Who I Was” is described as a masterfully filmed documentary from South Korea. It is about a boy who has been designated as the reincarnation of a high-ranking Tibetan monk. The boy and his aging grandfather embark on a journey to discover this past by foot and other means and through hazardous mountainous terrains. The first screening will be on November 7 at 7:30pm.
“Island Soldier” is about the untold story of Micronesian citizens fighting America’s wars at staggeringly high rates per capital. It focuses on a family who strives for their piece of the “American Dream”, and dealing with the consequences of military service against the backdrop of a pristine Pacific island on the brink of economic collapse. The first screening will be on November 3 at 8:15pm.
“Keep Talking” follows four Alaska Natives who recognize that no one else can save a language unless they take action themselves. They pursue their quest to save Kodiak Alutiiq, an endangered language spoken by less than 40 remaining Native Elders. First screening will be on November 6 at 8pm.
“Out of State” focuses on two prisoners who discover indigenous traditions from a fellow inmate serving a life sentence. They return to Hawaii wanting to prove to themselves and to their families that this experience has changed them forever. The first screening is sold out and some tickets might be available during via rush line. The second screening will be November 6 at 6:15pm.
Except for “Becoming Who I Was”, the first screenings of all Film for Thought films will have post-screening discussion where their respective filmmakers/directors and possible cast members will be there. More information about HIFF are available at hiff.org.