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Monday, October 26, 2009

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT: U.H. Film Students Rock the Hawaii International Film Festival

The Entrepreneurial Guide to Entertainment with Sandy McKee

Whenever I hear anyone bemoan the decline of the younger generation, I respond with one word: rubbish! Hang out with the talented students from the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (ACM) and you’ll soon agree.

October 23, 2009 was ACM Night at the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) and I went to support the Academy Award winners of tomorrow. I came; I saw; I bought the (ACM) t-shirt. Here’s why I’m glad I did:

Flowers, Chocolates, and Candlelit Dinners, written and directed by Priscilla Stafford (a winner of ACM’s Grace Abernethy Women’s Filmmaker Initiative Award). The story of a hapless young man who has a serious crush on his coworker; but, can’t seem to catch a break as he tries awkwardly to communicate his feelings via the traditional romantic gestures (hence the title). According to Priscilla, she “wanted people to feel awkward” along with the hero. I could tell she succeeded when a loud, collective groan escaped from the men in the audience when the guy leaned in for a goodnight kiss and the girl drew away and got out of the car. Ouch! He becomes more frustrated as his best laid schemes “gang aft agley.” Ironically, it is this expression of real emotion (finally) that prompts the girl to insist on an explanation. Once he’s forced to get real, the way is paved for the happy ending he’s been working so hard for. (Learn from this, guys!)

Live Tonight, written and directed by Aina Paikai. This was the first Hawaiian language film at HIFF by an ACM student. Aina promised there would be more, and I, for one, intend to hold him to that. The story is about a Hawaiian teenager who struggles between being Hawaiian and being “normal.” His family insists on speaking Hawaiian, sending the kids to Hawaiian language schools, and on eating Hawaiian food. He shows his discontent by picking at his food at the dinner table and posing the question, “Why can’t we eat Taco Bell?” (my paraphrase of the dialogue) Later, he sneaks out of the house to go to a club with his best friend, who explains to him that they are lucky to be able to speak Hawaiian and freely express themselves culturally. The film is authentic, with great acting, funny, original scenes, and many visual depictions of how sometimes the ingredients in the melting pot don’t always blend together.

Li Hing Mui, Lilikoi, & Lychee, written and directed by Lauren Cheape. An adorable story about two brothers (played by newcomers Evan and Alika Mock) who just want to have fun all day. After running out of ideas about what to do next, they whine and nag their mother to take them to get shave ice, not caring that she was busy or that she had just bought them a shave ice treat the day before. She admonishes them to think about someone other than themselves. Rather than do that, they decide to steal papayas from their elderly neighbor’s tree and sell them by the side of the road. However, when they see the neighbor fall down under the burden of carrying her wares to her fruit stand, they run to help her up and give back her papayas. Their mother sees this and is so proud of them that she takes them to get a shave ice after all. What flavor? Li hing mui, lilikoi, and lychee, of course! Lauren says that the young actors (who were superb) are members of her church and that she wrote the script with them in mind. She cast her grandparents as the shoppers who come to the fruit stand. The night before the shoot she called and said, “Grandma, I need tourists!” When the actress who was to play the shave ice girl didn’t show up, Lauren took on that part herself. Versatile and resourceful---skills that bode well for this young filmmaker.

Dog and Cat, written and directed by Robert K. Omura. One of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time. Very cinematic, with sparse dialogue, this film shows us what can happen when a mom leaves her two kids in the van with their loopy uncle while she goes Christmas shopping. The kids fight like cats and dogs (hence the title) and the uncle can’t begin to control them. The look on his face as he asks, “When is your mommy coming back?” is classic. Great acting by the entire cast, authentic sibling rivalry, and a hysterical (but, happy) ending make this film a favorite.

Watch Your Tongue, written and directed by Nasser Marghalani. This film about a young soccer player and his difficult relationship with his father is thought-provoking on many levels. Despite having been taught to honor his parents at Islamic school, the boy continually disrespects his dad as the father rushes to get him to soccer try-outs on time. The well-meaning dad embarrasses the boy, not only because the dad is handicapped, but also because he questions and second-guesses the soccer coaches. It takes a near tragedy to bring the boy and his dad back together---one that reveals to us that “watch your tongue” means more than just being careful what you say.

Lulu, written and animated by Brittany Itsuno. This is the first animated film by an ACM student to be shown at HIFF. I don’t know the technical term for this type of animation, so I’ll describe it as minimalist, with characters drawn in sweeping black strokes on a white background. Brittany told us that about 800 drawings went to make up the four-minute film. The story is about Lulu and her two pets---straightforward, but powerfully poignant. What struck me about this film was the way the emotions of the characters were clearly conveyed with the simple, classic lines. This takes more than artistic talent----it demands the heart of a storyteller. If Disney isn’t already knocking on Brittany’s door, they will be soon.

Jixiang Junction, by Kevyn Fong and Gloria Pan Huijia. This film, told in two-parts, is the result of an unprecedented art exchange between the University of Hawaii and Shanghai University’s School of Film and Television. Shot in Shanghai, it is the story of two girls. The first sits in the park sketching and discovers that what she draws comes to life. She tries to draw objects to improve the lives of the other people in the park (with varying success). The second part is about a girl and her stormy relationship with her mother. The mother wants the girl to be practical; and, the girl wants to go out and have fun. As with Nasser’s film, it takes a near tragedy to make them appreciate each other. Kevyn and Gloria do an excellent job of revealing unique Chinese cultural twists on these classic relational themes.

After the screening, I spoke briefly with Tom Brislin, the chairman of ACM, and congratulated him on a job well done by his students. Tom told me that the mission of ACM is to “create a new generation of Hawaii-based filmmakers” who will tell “original and authentic stories.” Based on these seven films, I’d say, “Mission accomplished, Tom!”

Learn more about ACM at their website: And, to keep up with the next film festival here in Hawaii, follow along at:

For more information, please visit Sandy's TNNW Bio.

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