The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 525-527
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Ka'ililauokekoa,76 minutes, VHS(NTSC), color, 2000. Director, screenwriter, and composer: Kala'iokona Ontai; producer and distributor: 'Aha Punana Leo, PO Box 1265, Kea'au, Hawai'i. US$19.95.
"Empowerment for Hawaiians" described it all. At the 3 November 2000 Hawai'i International Film Festival screening, the audience was a who's who of the Hawaiian community. There were faces of all colors, people from all walks of life. In a way it was a "reunion," a reunion of language. Hawaiian was being spoken by eager children and animated adults looking for their seats; the audience was abuzz with excitement. Outside, the stars of the film were taking still photos alongside their film poster. This was a historic moment for film in Hawai'i—the debut of the first feature-length film done completely in the Hawaiian language and created by aHawaiian-speaking cast and crew.
People produce images with many goals and purposes. In Ka'ililauokekoa the purposes are manifold. According to the film's introduction, the creators hope that it will create "new venues where [our] ancestors' [stories] can be shared." At the debut, composer Ontai explained, "If we have touched the hearts of our kupunathen we have succeeded." The sentiment is clear within the Hawaiian community—we want all the images we produce of Kanaka Maoli to be done with both respect and honor; we want to create something that our kupuna will smile down on and be proud of. Creating such a film, even with notions of how it should bedone, introduces certain pressures and difficulties, however.
The film opens with such beautiful imagery—scenes of gorgeous mountains, sky, ocean, and birds in flight—that one can't help feeling proud of being Hawaiian. Contemporary Hawaiian music plays in the background, enhancing the range of emotions portrayed throughout the film, guiding the viewer's senses along with the imagery.
The story of Ka'ililauokekoa is taken from a Kaua'i legend that has been passed down from generation to generation. As explained in the [End Page 525] film's press release, much research was undertaken to maintain cultural integrity. Set in the precontact past, the film portrays "a love story, universal in nature but Hawaiian in expression." It speaks of a love that forms between Ka'ililauokekoa, a Kaua'i chief played by Noelani Iokepa (an immersion-school teacher in real life), and highchief Kauakahiali'i,played by Pono Guerrero (a federal firefighter), whose magical flute attracts her to him. As in the many Hawaiian stories that feature strong, independent women, this tale portrays the strength and determination that Ka'ililauokekoa shows in refusing to marry another chief, Keli'ikoa (played by immersion-school teacher Kamakaneoaloha Hopkins), to whom she was promised at birth.
In assessing the first feature film in Hawaiian, one place to start is to look at the use of text versus nonverbal imagery. The filmmakers chose to use subtitles, but the question is, are subtitles needed? Who is the target audience? If the film's audience is students of Hawaiian language, then the subtitles are necessary as a teaching tool. The sometimes elementary level of the dialogue (each character goes through "Hello, my name is . . ." sentences) suggests that the film is indeed targeting language students. Language that is a little less textbook and more conversational would add to the believability of the film and its dialogue, but this is a choice that relates to target audience and purpose.
With regard to the acting, one assumes a choice was made between using experienced actors and speakers ofHawaiian.In choosingto use speakers of the Hawaiian language with no acting experience, did the filmmakers consider holding acting workshops? Better-trained actors would have enhanced the film had they fully "acted" some of the great funny lines in the film. A few minor inconsistencies might easily have been remedied: for example, bathing-suit-tan marks on one of the characters in the village would not have been seen in traditional times...