Maui Connections

Ever since it premiered at the Maui Film Festival at Wailea last June, friends who missed it have been asking when they could see “Kuleana.”

This original mystery drama, filmed entirely on Maui with an almost all-local cast and crew, opens on March 30 at the Regal Maui Mall Megaplex 12 in Kahului, and is slated to open the same day at The Wharf Cinema Center in Lahaina, writer-director Brian Kohne confirmed. It will play for at least a week. The Maui screenings are part of a statewide opening, reported in a front-page story in Saturday’s Maui News.

After it won the audience award for Best Hawaii-Made Feature at the Maui Film Festival, it went on to win one award after another at film festivals across the Mainland and beyond. This column devoted so much attention to the movie last year, I considered changing its name to “All Kuleana, All the Time.”

Like hundreds of other Maui folks, I played a tiny part in making it happen. I’m not talking about my moment on-screen as an extra. (Don’t blink, you’ll miss it.) But with cameramen Reece Pottorff and Felippe De Souza, I was tasked with chronicling the film shoot during its two weeks of production in the summer of 2016. We were hoping it would wind up in one of those “the making of . . .” documentaries.

It hasn’t yet, and probably won’t. But there are seven hours of unedited footage on a hard drive, packed with memories of how much aloha went into this David-and-Goliath effort, not just to get a movie made locally, but also to bring the values of this place to the screen in ways they haven’t been portrayed before.


My brain was still in screenwriter mode when I attended last Wednesday’s meeting of the Kula Community Association. The first item of business was cesspools.

As upscale subdivisions slowly creep onto lands where cows used to graze and crops used to grow, and media moguls find the bicoastal panoramic views to their liking, there’s an irony in the fact we don’t have sewer systems. The you-know-what goes in a hole in the ground.

According to state health officials — in a PowerPoint illustrated with lots of graphs, maps and computer models — cesspool waste along with livestock droppings and agricultural pesticides and chemicals formerly used on plantation fields is producing unsafe nitrate levels in some Upcountry wells.

New cash buyers of million-dollar Upcountry properties can afford to convert old cesspools to septic systems that supposedly will fix the problem. But the costs of such conversions — estimated at $20,000 and more, if you can even get the equipment in and find room for the leech field — will price out many longtime residents.

Looking around the packed Kula Community Center, I saw friends and neighbors including Chuck Carletta, Keith McCrary, Katie McMillan, Paul Meyer and Harlan Hughes in the sea of faces bronzed from decades of working this glorious landscape. We’re talking generations here, of Portuguese and Japanese and Chinese farmers and ranchers.

The state’s PowerPoint had been convincing. But it was no match for the intimate knowledge and wisdom of the land expressed by one member of the audience after another, often in impassioned speeches. They were the ones who tended the livestock and dug the wells mentioned in the report.

My favorite comment came from a paniolo who said livestock isn’t the problem. “It’s too much people.”

That’s when I realized “Kuleana’s” story isn’t over. The conflict portrayed in the film between old ways and new forces of economic development are still a fact of island life a half-century later. It’s no fun being reminded you can’t go back to the way things were. More recent arrivals have the extra burden of being sure we’re part of the solution, not the problem.


The next evening I watched the grass grow in “Shymali: Sprouting Words,” presented by Ananya Dance Theatre in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Company founder, choreographer and dancer Ananya Chatterjea used grass — the way it’s trampled but resilient and tenacious, the way it’s soft — as a metaphor to pay tribute to women standing up against oppression.

Grounded in the exacting, mesmerizing odissi tradition of Ananya’s Indian homeland, her choreography adds elements of martial arts and yoga. Thrilling an audience including Steve and Patricia Blessman and Sarala Dandekar and her family, Ananya and her dancers could be alluring and mysterious or fierce warriors from one moment to the next in this spellbinding 90-minute work of strength, agility, concentration and exotic beauty that became more compelling at the evening went on.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.


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