Maui Connections

Aloha Friday acquired powerful new meaning last week in the chambers of the Maui County Council.

The morning’s agenda included a proclamation honoring the cast and crew of the Maui-made movie “Kuleana,” and another one honoring the late Richard Ho’opi’i, whose soaring falsetto voice over decades of singing had made him a nationally recognized treasure of Hawaii.

Uncle Richard’s wife, son and daughter accepted the proclamation, putting the ceremonial lei on the urn they carried. Their short, heartfelt words of thanks filled the chambers with happy memories of his smiling face.

News that former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka had died that morning, and a visit from Hana schoolchildren on a field trip, greeting the council with a chicken-skin Hawaiian chant, added to the sense that island spirits were among us that morning — spirits of past, present and future.

“Kuleana’s” award-winning writer/director, Brian Kohne, shared the proclamation with cast and crew members including producer/actor Stefan Schaefer, executive producers Byron Warner and Susan Naylor, editor Adi All-ed, actor Kealani Warner, actor Wayne “Vene” Chun, sound designer Johnny Wilson and actor Steven Dascoulious.

Each council member added heartfelt personal comments to the words on the proclamation about this historical drama set on Maui in 1959 and 1971, the early years of statehood. “Kuleana” was produced and filmed entirely on the island with the support of some 500 local individuals and businesses. It went on to win film festival prizes in Guam and on the Mainland with its unique vision of recent Hawaiian history and cultural values.

During her remarks, Molokai Council Member Stacy Crivello remembered her brother George Helm, an activist who disappeared at sea in the 1970s during protests of the Navy’s use of Kahoolawe for target practice. Crivello referred to that era as the “Hawaiian Revolution.”

The bombing of Kahoolawe is a central metaphor in “Kuleana.”

The “Kuleana” proclamation commended the dedication and tireless effort of all involved that now “have brought pride and honor to the people of the County of Maui.”

The part that wasn’t known when the resolution was being drafted — and wasn’t even a dream when the film was being shot on an impossible schedule and microscopic budget in 2016 — was that “Kuleana” would become a hit.

Kohne’s ceaseless campaign to convince Hawaii’s theater chains to open it statewide on March 30 bore fruit. After a strong opening weekend, it expanded to three additional Oahu theaters its second week. It will soon open on Lanai.

The filmmaker thanked the Regal Entertainment Group for its role in making the homegrown production “a mainstream competitor to other Hollywood films in theaters now,” and for sharing “the privilege of having our baby take her first footsteps.”

He also used the occasion to promote a mission he’s long been on, on behalf of Hawaiian cinema.

“It’s time to reclaim our story so Hollywood doesn’t tell it,” he told the council, urging the county to support local filmmaking for reasons other than dollars and cents. Rather than trying to justify filmmaking in economic terms, it should be valued as a form of creative expression, he said.

Supporting local filmmakers, telling honest stories of this place, would “open up a whole new facet of the visitor industry,” he predicted, “while helping restore the dignity of all our people.”

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More honors are coming to Maui filmmakers April 18-22 when New Mexico’s Taos Environmental Film Festival presents Environmental Activism in Film Awards to director Dr. Tom Vendetti; director, producer, writer and cinematographer Robert Stone; musician/composer Keola Beamer; and hula master Moanalani Beamer.

Several of their films will screen during the five-day festival, in a small sampling of Emmy-winner Vendetti’s remarkable series of spiritual adventures on the path to happiness, from the Himalayas to Haleakala.

For details, visit taosenvironmentalfilmfestival.com.

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Ignoring the rain that canceled Wailuku First Friday, the 2018 annual Art of Trash exhibit opened happily at 1980 Main St. Organizer Wilma Nakamura and sponsors Sharing Aloha and Malama Maui Nui selected Judy Bruder to jury the best in recycled, reused and reinvented creations from artists including Charles-Antonio Valiieres, Megan Koeberle, Melissa Bruck, Tim Gunter and others. Deybra Fair’s “Love Bomb” won first prize.

Braving the elements to admire the junk were Bill Worcester, contributing artist Stephanie Clifton, and Klazine and Robert Pollock. The exhibit continues through April 28.

Across the street, Kathleen Schulz and staff were selling everything from vintage leather jackets to glamorous evening gowns for $2 to $5 at the Maui Academy of Performing Arts costume sale. Jeanne and Bill Paynich, Lynne Bear, Linda Schoen and Suzi Osborn were spotted, happily enlarging their wardrobes. Proceeds will go to the Charity Walk to benefit MAPA.

* 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.