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Netflix film stars Kamehameha Maui grad

‘Finding ‘Ohana’ to air globally Friday

Maui’s Lindsay Watson (foreground, far right) stars as Hana Okumura in Netflix’s “Finding ‘Ohana,” alongside Alex Aiono, Kea Peahu and Owen Vaccaro. The film streams Friday. NETFLIX photo

Valley Isle actress Lindsay Watson still can’t believe that her breakthrough role in Netflix’s “Finding ‘Ohana” will soon air worldwide.

Starting Friday, audiences can watch the Kamehameha Schools Maui graduate star as Hana Okumura, a local Oahu girl who embarks on an unexpected adventure with a group of friends through some of the island’s most recognizable locations.

The film centers on two Brooklyn-raised siblings, Pilialoha and Ioane, and new friends Hana and Casper, who follow clues in an old pirate’s journal in search of long-lost treasure, but along the way are reconnected with their Hawaiian heritage and rediscover the importance of family, tradition, and respecting the land.

“Every day it still shocks me. I mean, I still think back on my journey of being raised on Maui,” Watson said on Friday during a Zoom interview. “Now leading to this point and booking this role as a Native Hawaiian girl who loves her culture and who loves her family, filming in Hawaii, everything about this was a dream come true. I think I’m what they call ‘blessed.’ “

Watson said she was ready for a change after graduating from high school in 2013 and going to Los Angeles.

Owen Vaccaro, who plays Casper, and Oahu native Kea Peahu, who stars as Pili, smile on set at Kualoa Ranch, one of the locations featured in Netflix’s “Finding ‘Ohana,” a family-friendly film about a group of friends embarking on a wild treasure hunt adventure. NETFLIX photo

“I knew nothing about L.A.,” she said. “I just jumped on a plane and moved out there with no plans.”

“Finding ‘Ohana” is directed by Jude Weng, who is most notable for directing shows like ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat” and “Blackish,” NBC’s “The Good Place,” CBS’ “Young Sheldon,” CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” among others.

The story is by Christina Strain and produced by Ian Bryce, whose work includes the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan” and mega-blockbusters like “Spider-Man,” as well as all five films in the “Transformers” series.

Irene Yeung and JJ Hook are the executive producers.

The first time Watson read the script for the film, she said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

“They were looking for a Native Hawaiian and this girl who they described loved her culture and she’s spunky and she’s determined, and I was like, ‘Did they write this about me?’ “ she said with a laugh. “It was written very true to how we speak and how we are and touching on parts of the culture that not a lot of people know unless you’re from Hawaii.”

Now that the air date is just around the corner, Watson is excited for family and friends to watch.

“I wanted to make sure that being a Kamehameha Schools graduate, it’s a big thing to make sure we’re doing everything correct, you know, we stand by telling the Hawaiian culture in the most proper and accurate way, so our whole team stood by that and we together made this awesome movie that I think Hawaii is going to be really proud of,” Watson said.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino has declared Friday as “Finding ‘Ohana” Day to celebrate the film and to commemorate the value of family and friends “as the key to living a full experience,” according to a news release.

Oahu native Kea Peahu, who plays the leading role of 12-year-old Pili Kawena — the adventurous, mischievous and geocaching champion who is pulled from her busy New York life and dropped into rural Oahu to help care for her grandfather — said Friday afternoon that she felt like she was working with “one big ohana” on set.

Peahu’s family also had the opportunity to watch a few behind-the-scenes moments.

“I don’t get to go home a lot, especially with this pandemic, so every time I do get to go home, I really appreciate it and I’m really grateful for it,” Peahu said. “This was my first movie that I ever filmed, and being able to say that it was filmed on Oahu means a lot to me. . . . Even though I don’t live there anymore, it will always be my home.”

Peahu said that she related to her character in different ways, adding that “it was cool getting to play someone else’s life for a little bit.”

The genuine friendships and connections made off camera and in between scenes with the cast and crew will be what Alex Aiono, who plays the role of older brother Ioane, will cherish most.

“All four of us have different personalities, different strengths, so we kind of help each other expand out and become better as a team, so all of those moments, even off camera and just getting to hang out with the crew, was just an amazing experience,” said Aiono. “Anytime that we really got to spend some time together, whether it was on camera or off camera, was definitely my most memorable moments.”

Fifteen-year-old actor Owen Vaccaro, who already has a solid filmography, plays Pili’s kind, caring and somewhat dorky redheaded friend, Casper. Vaccaro said he had to dye his naturally dark hair “a lot” for the role.

“I loved playing Casper so much,” Vaccaro said. “He really likes studying biology and ecosystems and Hawaii where he lives, and I love biology.

“I’m taking that class right now, but nobody warned me how hard it would be,” he said with a laugh.

In all seriousness, he added that this movie is especially important because of its message of culture and family.

“Especially during this time that we’re all living in with this pandemic and with all these crazy things happening, I think this is a message that everybody really wants to hear — the importance of family and friends, whether you’re blood-related or not,” he said.

The movie also stars Kelly Hu as the siblings’ mother and Branscombe Richmond as Pops. Other cast members include Ke Huy Quan, Brad Kalilimoku, Chris Parnell, Marc Evan Jackson and Ricky Garcia.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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