The Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, which ran from October 20-30, celebrated its 25th year with record attendance and increased global visibility, cementing its place as premiere showcase for cinema from Asia and the Pacific Rim. "This was definitely our biggest, most successful year ever," festival executive director Chuck Boller told indieWIRE. "We decided to stick with what we've always done... show the best possible films, particularly from Asia and the Pacific, which has always been our area of focus. We had 260 films from 40 countries. Last year we had 15 sold out shows, and this year we had 48."
The festival also screened the largest selection of Hawaii-based films in its history, presenting 50 works by local filmmakers, from feature films to documentaries, shorts and music videos. Among them was the world premiere of Eddie Kamae's "Keepers of the Flame", a 25-minute film that chronicles the lives of three Hawaiian women - a historian, a chanter and a kumu hula, and their efforts to preserve their culture. Another world premiere by a local filmmaker was Heather Giugni's "Aloha Live: On the Road with Willie K. and Amy Gilliom", a 45-minute film which documents Willie K. and Gilliom's last mainland tour, creating a fascinating road movie as cameras capture compelling behind-the scenes drama.
The vast selection of Asian cinema was top notch as always, with highly anticipated screenings like the US premiere of "A Bittersweet Life" by legendary Korean writer/director Jee-woon Kim ("The Quiet Family", "The Foul King"), which caused quite a stir at the theater as lead actor Byung-hun Lee made an appearance to star-struck fans. "I can't tell you how much I enjoyed watching all his fans," says Boller. "Those nice ladies were just going crazy.... We even had a woman faint beforehand, and an ambulance came. A cop ran up to me and asked where the body was, and I said 'There's a body?' You can't arrange those kinds of events, so that definitely was a high point for me."
The US Independent Film section was also particularly strong, featuring the world premiere of Ward Powers' "One", a documentary that once again proves that anyone armed with a digital video camera has a shot at making a decent movie. Powers and his friends, self-described as just a bunch of Midwestern guys who are always looking for new activities, came up with the idea of making a movie, although they had no formal training or any connections in the industry. With blind ambition, it was determined that the film should be about no less than the very meaning of life itself, and they decided to hit the streets to ask ordinary citizens a series of 20 probing questions.
As the home-movie project unfolded, their quest for answers took some fascinating turns, and they found themselves asking these questions to some of the world's great spiritual leaders, miraculously gaining one-on-one access to the likes of Deepak Chopra, Robert A. F. Thurman, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Ultimately, the documentary becomes the story of the filmmakers' own journey during the project - a video diary about a few suburban dads who go on a naive quest for the meaning of life and discover what remarkable things can happen when you simply start asking questions.
Frank Lin's "American Fusion", another world premiere in the US Independent Film section, was also a festival favorite, taking home the Audience Choice for Best Feature Film. "It's a romantic comedy about an Asian-American woman who falls in love with a Hispanic-American dentist," Lin told indieWIRE. "The problem is the Asian-American woman's family is very traditional and doesn't look too kindly upon interracial relationships." Lin was thrilled with the recognition the film received at the festival. "When we got the audience award is was a spiritual experience for me. I've never encountered anything like that before in my life."
Two shorts of note included Daniel Dronsfield's brilliant "Iceblock Cometh", a fascinating experimental film that follows the life of a block of ice in Cambodia from the factory to the streets, and Ellen Bruno's "Sky Burial", which shows a Tibetan Buddhist burial ceremony, an event rarely depicted on film. This beautifully shot documentary shows with stark objectivity the process of wrapping the body in cloth while it is in the fetal position, the prayerful chanting of the monks, and the eventual butchering of the human flesh as it is fed to hungry vultures, carried to the sacred sky.
Most of the directors present at the festival made an appearance at the annual "Meet the Filmmakers" party, where a spread of local cuisine was offered at an outdoor tiki bar overlooking Waikiki Beach at sunset. Even that event was trumped by the "Governor's Reception" later in the week, which took place as always at the historic residence of Governor Linda Lingle. She spoke passionately about film to the crowd, who were later entertained by local musicians, great food, and plenty of cocktails.
In addition to the many awards listed below, Samuel Jackson will accept the festival's inaugural Achievement in Acting Award this Friday, a little late due to a conflict with his shooting schedule. "He definitely deserves it as a leading independent actor who's gone on from things like 'Pulp Fiction' and 'The Red Violin' to huge international acclaim," says Boller. As the silver edition of the festival officially concludes, everyone involved seems more than pleased with the results. "There was a terrific buzz... everybody in town was talking about it," says Boller. "We couldn't be happier. It was a terrific year."
Hawaii International Film Festival Award Winners:
First Hawaiian Bank Golden Maile Awards: "Cavite" [Philippines] - Golden Maile: Best Feature Film "Sisters in Law" [Cameroon] - Golden Maile: Best Documentary Film
Russell Boyd ["Master and Commander"] wins the Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography
Film in Hawaii Award presented to the late Kayo Hatta ["Picture Bride"]
The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award goes to "Season of the Horse" [China]
Inaugural LVHIFF Maverick Award goes to Sonny Chiba, the anti-hero of Asian martial arts
LVHIFF Outstanding Studio Award to Toei Film Studios for its contribution to shaping this culture
Two-time Academy Award nominee, Zhang Yimou received LVHIFF's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award on October 19th
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Hawaii Film & Videomaker Award goes to the late Kayo Hatta film "Fishbowl" [Hawaii] and honorable mention to "Wahine O Ke Kai" [Hawaii]
Honolulu Magazine Award for Best Short Film goes to "Crickets" [Israel] and "Valtor The Great Vs. The Universe" [Hawaii]
Cause & f(x) Dream Digital Award goes to "Late Bloomer" [Japan]
Special award for Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking to The Shanghai Film Group
The Hawaiian Airlines Audience Choice Awards: "American Fusion" [USA] - Hawaiian Airlines Audience Choice for Best Feature Film "Keepers of the Flame" [Hawaii] - Hawaiian Airlines Audience Choice for Best Documentary Film "Sand Island Drive Inn Anthem" [Hawaii] - Hawaiian Airlines Audience Choice for Best Short Film