Local offerings shine at HIFF
BY MIKE GORDON / firstname.lastname@example.org
Its long-standing focus on Asian and Pacific films has earned the Hawaii International Film Festival a global reputation for showcasing the best that the regions have to offer. But Robert Lambeth, the festival’s new executive director, wants audiences to see what’s being created here in Hawaii, as well.
34TH ANNUAL HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Where: Various theaters
» Opening night film: “The Vancouver Asahi” is at 8 p.m. Thursday at Consolidated’s Ward theater.
The curtain is about to lift on the festival’s 34th season. It’s Lambeth’s first as director, and he’s emphasizing his belief that Hawaii filmmakers hold their own on the international stage.
“There are a lot of films that are locally made that capture what we believe is the uniquely defining difference that makes Hawaii … Hawaii,” Lambeth said. “We have our own stories that the world finds interesting, and that’s why I am so passionate about locally made films.”
The festival, which opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 9 on Oahu (and Nov. 13-16 on the Big Island and Kauai), features several local documentaries, including the closing-night screening — and world premiere — of “Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson.”
This year, HIFF will screen works from 45 countries. A new section in 2014 is “New Frontiers,” highlighting Islamic film, filmmakers and programs.
For the second year in a row, the festival has reduced the overall number of films while adding multiple screenings. There are 176 films this year, down from 209 in 2013, but most (87 percent) will screen more than once.
OF HAWAII offerings, “Visions in the Dark” is perhaps the most significant. It was directed by Ty Sanga, a filmmaker from Kalihi whose work has screened at Sundance and Cannes.
Thompson, who died in 2001, was a champion of Hawaiian issues that included housing, health and native rights.
Sanga called Thompson’s life “a massive story.”
Thompson was a former Kamehameha Schools trustee, guided the Polynesian Voyaging Society — his son is navigator Nainoa Thompson — and helped create Alu Like to funnel federal money toward Native Hawaiians. He was state administrator for Gov. John Burns and a confidant of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye.
“His leadership was quite amazing,” Sanga said. “He was able to move in all these spheres and work with the kids in Waianae and in the halls of Washington.”
Despite his impact, the story of Thompson’s life is not well known, so the film is a welcome spotlight on a man who often worked behind the scenes, said Anderson Le, the festival’s programming director.
“It’s a very strong, lyrical documentary about one of the most significant icons in the Hawaiian Renaissance, but also Hawaii’s history during the last century,” Le said. “Pinky Thompson was not only a war hero, he was a community organizer who believed in health care, education and the perpetuation of the Hawaiian language and culture.”
LOCAL OFFERINGS include films with strong Hawaii themes:
» “Rise of the Wahine,” on the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball team and the federal legislation that brought equality to female college athletes.
» “Iolani Palace: Restoration & Hawaii’s Past Today,” a collection of films, themselves restored, that document the restoration of Iolani Palace.
» “Ike: Knowledge Is Everywhere,” a look at health, society and the next generation.
» “Lahaina Noon,” Chris Kahunahana’s short film about a day when the sun is directly overhead and a person casts no shadow.
» “Winning Girl,” the inspiring story about a teenage girl who wants to win Olympic medals in judo and wrestling.
Le offered high praise for “Lahaina Noon.”
“It’s beautiful, dreamlike and completely surreal,” Le said. “Chris Kahunahana has crafted a film like no other coming from Hawaii. He went through the Sundance Native Lab, so it’s great to see this clear artistic vision on the big screen that is cosmic, psychedelic and picturesque.” (The Native Lab Fellowship supports Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native film artists working in the U.S.)
The sports documentary “Winning Girl” was directed by Kimberlee Bassford, whose film about Congresswoman Patsy Mink won the Audience Award for Favorite Documentary at HIFF in 2008.
Her new film is the story of a young girl with a dream: Teysha Alo, 16, of Honolulu, wants to win Olympic gold medals in judo and wrestling. Bassford met her when she was 12 and chronicled her journey, which so far hasn’t included Olympic competition.
Bassford’s film is a story that starts on a local stage and goes international. She believes Alo will inspire audiences.
“She has a winning personality,” Bassford said. “She is very charismatic. She is very confident and an engaging young woman. I think people will fall in love with her.”
EuroCinema brings buzz
Organizers of the Hawaii International Film Festival and EuroCinema Hawaii are buzzing about their lineup, thanks in part to the HIFF Centerpiece film: “The Imitation Game,” a powerful drama that already has critics talking about an Oscar.
EuroCinema, dubbed a “festival within a festival” because it features European films that run as part of the largely Asian-focused HIFF, will feature a dozen films this year.
Producer Chris Lee, one of EuroCinema’s founders, says it’s the best lineup in Euro Cinema’s five-year history.
“The Imitation Game” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the brilliant British cryptologist who helped crack the German Enigma code during World War II. Although Turing’s actions helped win the war, he was prosecuted in 1952 for engaging in homosexual behavior.
“It’s a great story, and there is an amazing performance by Cumberbatch,” said Anna Page, HIFF’s associate director of programming. “There’s already Oscar buzz. It was the audience award winner at the Toronto Film Festival this year and that’s a good indicator of Oscar winners.”
EuroCinema Hawaii films screen Oct. 30 through Nov. 9 at Honolulu’s Regal Dole Cannery theaters. A highlight of the fest-within-a-fest is EuroCinema’s black-tie gala, Nov. 8 at the Moana Surfrider. The awards party features a red-carpet arrival of visiting actors and local celebrities. Tickets for the gala are $175.
For more information, go to eurocinemahawaii.org.