HIFF kicks off 35th year of indie flicks
BY MIKE GORDON / firstname.lastname@example.org
Oscar-worthy performances and potential Oscar nominees are part of the diverse offerings in the 35th annual Hawaii International Film Festival, opening today.
35TH ANNUAL HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
» When: Today through Nov. 22
» Opening night film: “The Throne,” 8 p.m. today at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 (Hawaii premiere)
» “Tyke Elephant Outlaw” screens at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 21 and noon Nov. 22 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18; and 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Consolidated Koko Marina 8
The festival includes 182 films, which organizers say can be daunting to sort through but satisfying all the same.
Films include Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” a forbidden-love story set in the 1950s, “Tyke Elephant Outlaw,” a documentary looking back at the incident of an elephant rampaging through the streets of Kakaako, and “Krisha,” a fictional portrait of a woman struggling for her sanity in which all the actors are related to the director. Krisha Fairchild, who used to live and act in Hawaii, stars in the title role.
“Carol,” which serves as HIFF’s centerpiece film, stars Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine,” “The Aviator”) in the title role and Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) as her lover in a story originally told in the 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” by Patricia Highsmith. Blanchett plays a sophisticated but unhappy housewife who falls in love with Mara, a young shop clerk.
Anderson Le, the festival’s programming director, said both actresses gave performances that have critics talking about Academy Award nominations — best actress for Blanchett, who already has a pair of golden statues, and best supporting actress for Mara, who has a best-actress nomination on her resume. “Carol” won’t be in theaters until later this month.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film,” Le said. “I’m a big fan of the director. He creates a very realistic, stylized world of the ’50s that is very sumptuous. And at the same time he explores provocative themes.”
Films from Asia, a staple at HIFF, bookend the festival: The South Korean film “The Throne” is the gala opening film on Thursday, and the Chinese film “A Tale of Three Cities” closes the festival Nov. 22.
The festival also features nine foreign films that are their country’s official entry into the foreign language category for this year’s Academy Awards, including “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time),” which was developed at the screenplay stage during HIFF’s inaugural Creative Lab screenwriting workshop in October 2013.
“How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” was written and directed by Josh Kim, who brought his screenplay to the Creative Lab for help. The film, which is based on stories by novelist Rattawut Lapcharoensap, focuses on a pair of orphaned brothers growing up in Bangkok and what happens when the older brother faces the possibility of being conscripted into military service. At previous festival screenings, Thai viewers told Kim that the film made them homesick.
“Yeah, I’m very proud to be able to bring it back to Hawaii,” Kim said. “Not only has the festival supported me by screening my previous film, ‘Draft Day,’ but the Creative Lab was invaluable in the process of getting the film made.”
Documentary films were entered in larger numbers than usual, leaving organizers with no choice but to include more, said Anna Page, the festival’s associate director of programming. Last year HIFF screened 10 documentaries; this year it will have 25.
“We’re really excited to share all these with the community,” Page said. “There a couple of documentaries that are unique and that I think will resonate here.”
One of them is “Lost and Found,” which follows Pacific Northwest residents who sought to return personal items that washed up on their beaches after the March 11, 2011, tsunami rocked Japan. Page calls the documentary touching and uplifting.
A documentary from a different genre, but one that will no doubt touch Hawaii audiences, is “Tyke Elephant Outlaw” from Australian filmmakers Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore. Tyke was a circus elephant who went on a rampage in Honolulu in 1994, killing her trainer in front of a horrified audience at the Blaisdell Arena before charging into Kakaako. She was ultimately gunned down in the street.
The film’s focus — what caused Tyke to snap — overrides the brutal aspects of what the African elephant did and should inspire audiences to speak out against animal cruelty, Page said.
“I think audiences will really love it,” she said. “There’s an important call to action, and I think people will really be inspired and empowered to affect change.”
A pair of music documentaries will also feature special musical performances.
“American Epic,” a PBS-sponsored documentary that explores the roots of slack-key guitar, delta blues, Cajun, Tejano and Hopi music, will be preceded by a short concert with Taj Mahal in an outdoor screening Thursday.
“Made in Japan” is the story of Japan’s first female country music star, Tomi Fujiyama, who followed Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry, earning a standing ovation in 1964, and returned to America years later to relive her spirited tour. Elijah Wood (“The Hobbit”) narrates and served as executive producer, along with Morgan Spurlock (“Supersize Me”). Fujiyama will perform at the film’s Monday screening.