From ‘Kuleana’ to ‘Maui’ for island-made film

Kohne changes name of movie in hopes of increasing prospects

The award-winning movie “Kuleana” has been rebranded “Maui” as the film prepares for theater screenings on the Mainland. This is the new poster for the movie. The Maui News MELISSA TANJI photo

KAHULUI — The award-winning film “Kuleana,” shot on the Valley Isle, has a new name — “Maui.”

Explaining the meaning of “kuleana” to those on the Mainland is “too cryptic,” said director Brian Kohne. His film is being prepared for screening in Mainland theaters next year and marketed internationally and to television.

Kuleana is the Hawaiian word for spiritual responsibility.

The new title, “Maui,” “doesn’t have to be translated anywhere in the world,” Kohne said at a luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Kahului on Monday. He also showed club members the rebranded movie poster, featuring the new title.

Having a title referencing a popular location gives “us a good chance” to be sold to television or to be easily recognized on a poster, with people probably gushing, “Oh, I love Maui,” the Wailuku resident said at Tante’s Island Cuisine in Kahului.

“I always knew I was writing a movie about Maui,” Kohne said, noting he began writing the film 14 years ago after moving back to the Valley Isle from Silicon Valley in California. The film initially started out as a comedy but evolved into a dramatic work.

The movie takes place on Maui in 1971 and follows a disabled Vietnam veteran as he rediscovers the Hawaiian warrior within to protect his family, defend their land and clear his father’s name. The movie includes Maui-born Moronai Kanekoa, 1996 graduate of Maui High School, along with other Mauians, including Kainoa Horcajo and Branscombe Richmond. Maui musician Willie K provided the original score.

Kohne said the issues the movie examines 1971 still resonate in current day Maui and Hawaii.

The film showed in Hawaii theaters for seven weeks beginning at the end of March. Rated PG-13, the movie has garnered several awards from film festivals in Santa Cruz, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; and Guam, as well as the Maui Film Festival.

It is written and directed by Kohne and produced by Stefan Schaefer.

In response to a question from a Rotary member, Kohne said there were limits on what he could disclose about the movie’s finances, but said “we made money on the first run,” a limited theatrical release.

He said the success of the limited release has caught the eye of large movie theaters such as Regal and AMC.

Investors have not yet recouped their money, “but we are moving in that direction,” Kohne said. He thanked his investors, who “all have their hearts in the right place.”

While the movie title has changed to “Maui,” Kohne, a Baldwin High grad, said the goal of the film indeed was to do his “kuleana,” or to “honor those who came before, to make the world a better place for those who follow.”

Now Kohne will see how the title “Maui” will do in larger, different settings.

“We will see, there is no guarantees we are going to be successful,” he said.

With the help of the Maui County Film Office and the Maui Visitors Bureau, the film will be taken to places such as Toronto, where the movie could be sold to television networks and international film companies. The film also will be taken to an American film marketplace in Los Angeles.

Kohne’s creation already has made great strides, becoming the first Hawaii-made movie in more than a decade to be shown on major motion picture screens in Hawaii. He pushed really hard to get the film shown in mainstream Hawaii theaters.

“Kuleana” was scheduled to be shown in the islands for a week but instead got a seven-week run because of its popularity, Kohne said.

He tried to have his previous film, “Get A Job,” shown in major Hawaii theaters in 2011 without any luck. That film featured local actors and musicians Willie K, Jake Shimabukuro and Henry Kapono.

Since “Kuleana,” another movie, “Running for Grace,” shot on Hawaii island, has played in mainstream theaters.

“The idea of cracking the door, it worked,” Kohne said.

In addition to navigating the tough film industry, Kohne is ensuring that local students have support in film, video production and theater. He is the program coordinator of the Creative Media Program at University of Hawaii Maui College.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at