Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Kaho'olawe commission applauds video by HPU class

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

A vision of the future. That's what the five students and two teachers from Hawai'i Pacific University promised.

Hawai'i Pacific University student Phil Ajolo takes a video shot of a newly planted wiliwili on Kaho'olawe.

Photo courtesy HPU

And when they were finished, the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission gave them a standing ovation, knowing that the 13-minute video that HPU's advanced communications class produced would become an important part of the fund-raising efforts for the continued cleanup of the island, long after the Navy concludes its $390 million contract next November.

"We wanted to capture what we're trying to do there, to show it to future funders," said Keoni Fairbanks, executive director of the commission.

"We were thinking about how we were going to do that, and then the students from HPU called."

That phone call last spring was the beginning of a project far beyond the scope of anything the students had done. Previously, said instructor Jackie Langley, the projects had been short pieces about subjects such as kick-boxing, nothing that deeply touched a piece of sacred, cultural history the way Kaho'olawe touches the Native Hawaiian community.

From the bald and wind-swept mountaintop of Lua Makika to the image of what could be a lush forest some day, the HPU class produced a video that over the summer was shown at the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Kaho'olawe exhibit, and this week became part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.

The class endured dust storms, toted about 400 pounds of equipment, lost a key flywheel that stabilized a camera, skirted unexploded ordnance, walked gingerly around sacred sites, and took a forced barefoot hike up a mountainside.

"They made us walk up a mountain with no shoes on, to feel the pain of the Hawaiians. I was dying," said Langley, of the classes' second trip to the island with the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana.

"And we were carrying camera equipment. It felt like I was walking for 100 years. My feet were burning and screaming.

"But the point was to feel the pain and I felt the pain."

They also discovered the realities of the documentary filmmaker — that sometimes the most touching scenes are never shot.

"At a women's heiau we were walking along a trail and we stopped and two of the women stepped forward and slowly, with their arms raised, began to chant," said Langley. "They cut off the cameras and that was tough.

On location for their video to help the Kaho'olawe cleanup efforts: From left, student Jackson Bauer, instructor Jacqueline Langley, student Connie Bridgman, instructor Mark Nitta and student Phil Ajolo.

Photo courtesy HPU

"It was powerful."

There are other ways to make up for such an emotional loss, said Langley, and those are the kinds of things the class learned how to cope with.

"You have to learn to accept that," said student Jackson Bauer. "It's a great shot, but at the same time you have to think of the moral side as well and understand that."

One of the most complicated parts of the process was that much of the filming was done "remote — on an island with very little facilities," said Mark Nitto, manager for the HPU communications video lab.

The Navy airlifted equipment and people in, even a generator, for the students' first trip. They had a truck to carry equipment on that trip, but the quarter-sized flywheel fell off the jib while they were bouncing along the rough terrain.

The 150-pound jib allowed the students to shoot from a height of about 12 feet, as it swung the camera aloft. Before the flywheel was lost, said Nitto, "it gave us some very interesting shots."

The students began the project excited about going to Kaho'olawe, but then came to realize the powerful potential of the images they would present and how delicate was the line they would have to walk to avoid a video that would become a political diatribe.

"I wanted to just step back from it and let the Hawaiian message come through," said student Connie Bridgman, an author and artist now studying video, and the student who did most of the editing. Bridgman was deeply moved by the island's beauty, the sound of the wind in the kiawe trees and the tall yellow seagrass — "like a Gauguin or Van Gogh painting."

But it's Bauer, who co-wrote the script with Langley, who is taking the video one step further by creating a DVD, complete with interactive pages, that explores the events leading up to the cleanup of Kaho'olawe.

Part of the class exercise included creating a budget for the picture. For that, the students drafted their actual cost — $7,000 because their labor was free — and compared it to what it would have cost on the open market — $70,000 to $85,000.

The commission paid all costs.

"We're thrilled and very grateful," said Fairbanks. "I was always confident and optimistic, but they exceeded expectations.

"Sometimes you do the best work as a student."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.