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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 24, 2003

HIFF serves up a feast for independent film fans

The Buzz
10 films worth seeing
The ups and downs of HIFF 2003
Hawaii International Film Festival

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in "Girl with a Pearl Earring," from the book by Tracy Chevalier about the painter Johannes Vermeer. (Photo by Japp Buitendijk)

"The Ride," a Hawai'i film directed by Nathan Kurosawa, is about a professional surfer who travels back to the days of Duke Kahanamoku. The movie will be screened at Sunset on the Beach, Nov. 1, as a world premiere.
Would you see 10 films in one week?

The typical Hawaii International Film Festival buff does.

Considering that the festival, which opens Thursday, boasts about 164 titles, 10 is no big deal.

"We once had a couple that, between them, saw 65 films," said Chuck Boller, HIFF executive director, about the diehards thirsty for independent, unusual, cultural, international works. "We had one person see 44 one year, but on the average, our research shows that most people go to about 10 films — which is not a bad average. You start with one, then get swept into the wave of films, and suddenly, you're going to eight, 10 films. And with Signature Dole Cannery Theatres offering us five screens, it's quite easy to slip from one movie to another in the same night. You don't have to get into the car and drive to another theater."

The festival, in its 23rd year, expects to draw more than 60,000 over an 11-day run.

Diversity — a cosmopolitan mix of titles from Canada, China, South Korea, Japan, India, the United States, and yes, even Hawai'i — will be on the imaginary marquee when American director Robert Altman's "The Company" is launched Thursday; Canadian director Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions" is the Nov. 7 closing-night feature. Both screenings will be at the downtown Hawai'i Theatre, which can accommodate 1,400.

But most of the ensuing mixed plate unreels at the Signature Dole Cannery Theatres, the user-friendly (easy access, free parking) site that includes two larger halls each seating 425 devoted to HIFF. The bigger theaters possibly could generate a higher turnstyle count at the door.

Indeed, the central one-stop location has been a boon to the festival's measured growth. Boller estimates the fest could attract 2 percent more folks this year, matching the same level of growth at last year's festival, which drew about 60,000.

With its $1.2 million budget ($750,000 cash, with the rest in in-kind donated services), HIFF has an enviable slate of films from 34 countries, including 12 world premieres and 22 U.S. premieres. Shorter films are "packaged" with longer works, so the menu includes 125 different "packages."

That's quite a lot of celluloid and video to whet any appetite. But by numbers, this year's crop of films is down from the 200 titles (135 packages) from last year.

Still, HIFF's mission — to foster interest in and stimulate discussion of films from all over the world, with an emphasis on Asia and the Pacific Rim — remains unchanged. It's all about boosting awareness and building bridges.

"More than ever, we have something that will appeal to everybody," said Boller. "But you never know who will come, or how many, because that's the nature of films — you buy (tickets) just before you go, not like the opera where you plan months in advance."

The festival collates big and little works, embracing such genres as anime, martial arts, Bollywood, and more. While Chinese and Japanese titles have been regularly exhibited, a growing number of South Korean features is part of the mix this year, said Boller. A Filipino component also is becoming a must-do.

Independent films are also a staple. And horrors! — there's a collection of short thrillers and spooky flicks for midnight mavens.

Also, a handful of "Gala" showings — films deemed worth watching — should attract a wide following. The radar scans entities from Thailand, Canada, Britain, France, South Korea and the United States.

While the festival may be short on celebrity appearances (no over-the-title Hollywood stars), it does have an Oscar winner (director Mark Rydell, of "On Golden Pond" fame) and a seasoned cinematographer (Dean Semler of "Bruce Almighty," "Waterworld," "Mad Max," "The Alamo"). On screen, you'll see folks such as Jackie Chan, William H. Macy, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, pidginmeister Bradajo, Father Damien and jazz faves Jimmy Borges, Betty Loo Taylor and Gabe Baltazar.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.

• •

The Buzz

Neve Campbell and Domingo Rubio star in "The Company," directed by Robert Altman, which opens the festival Thursday night.
Name-dropping: Brooke Lee, a former Miss Universe (and ex-poster girl for HIFF), will be here with friend Robin Shou for the launch of "Red Trousers — the Life of the Hong Kong Stuntmen," a documentary Shou directed, at 8:45 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Hawai'i Theatre.

Foreign tongues: With the emerging international community of film, HIFF has increased its fliers (distributed to specific communities) and e-mail newsletters for foreign-speaking audiences and participants. Chinese, Japanese and Korean bulletins are planned; Tagalog is likely, too. Joots, a marketing and design company, has designed the online versions (www.hiff.org).

Spring fling: While specific dates are not yet set, the Hawaii International Film Festival's Spring Film Festival will be held in April.

Up-to-the-minute update: 528-4433 or check with each screening site for postponed, rescheduled or additional screenings.

Sell-out tip: Some screenings will be sold out before showtime; quite often, those in "rush lines" 30 minutes before screenings — waiting for no-shows — will be admitted, if space is available.

• • •

10 films worth seeing

"Lumpia," from the Philippines, will be screened Nov. 1 and 8 at Dole Cannery. It deals with ethnic schisms.
"The Company," the opening-night film by Robert Altman, 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hawai'i Theatre. Neve Campbell stars as a ballet dancer juggling the tremendous physical and emotional demands of her job; and yes, she does her own dancing. Malcolm McDowell plays the company's director.

"Girl with a Pearl Earring," a Britain-Luxembourg film by Peter Webber, 7:15 p.m. Oct. 31 at Dole Cannery. Titled after a painting by Johannes Vermeer, this incandescent film stars Colin Firth as the artist and Scarlett Johansson as Griet, the girl.

"Flavors," an Indian film by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 31 and 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Dole Cannery. Yet another ethno-cultural romp, as characters and plots collide at an intercultural wedding. If you loved "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "The Wedding Banquet," you'll have an outrageous, fun time.

"The Ride," a world-premiere surfing saga by localite Nathan Kurosawa, 6 p.m. Nov. 1, as the Sunset on the Beach event attraction at Queen's Surf Beach. "The Ride" focuses on David Monroe, a 21-year-old professional surfer, and redefines the ultimate Hawai'i film experience: It uses the Hawaiian-king-of-sports theme with a surprising wrinkle, a flashback to the Waikiki of 1911.

"Lumpia," a Filipino film by a Patricio Ginelsa Jr., 3 p.m. Nov. 1 and noon Nov. 8 at Dole Cannery. A "Dim Sum" from the Philippines — with raw energy, youthful conflict and contemporary gimmicks (comic books and karaoke) — retelling the ethnic schisms from the past that still exist today.

"The Cooler," a film by Wayne Kramer, 7:15 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9:45 p.m. Nov. 6 at Dole Cannery. A luckless soul in Las Vegas (William H. Macy), finds his fate changes when he has a torrid love affair (with Maria Bello).

"Be Good, Smile Pretty," a documentary by Tracy Droz Tragos, 3 p.m. Nov. 2 and 3 p.m. Nov. 5 at Dole Cannery. A very personal odyssey of a daughter's quest to find out about the father she never knew, since he was killed in combat in Vietnam when she was a toddler.

"Japanese Story," an Australian film by Sue Brooks, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Hawai'i Theatre. A Centerpiece Gala feature, starring Toni Collette ("Muriel's Wedding, "The Sixth Sense") as Sandy Edwards, an ambitious geologist, who babysits aloof Japanese businessman Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima). They find themselves in precarious life-or-death circumstances against the backdrop of the Australian outback.

"The Triplets of Belleville," a French animated film by Sylvain Chomet, 7:15 p.m. Nov. 6 at Dole Cannery. A hit at this year's Cannes Film Festival, this surreal feature has been likened to Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," with eccentric characters and eccentric images that result in a visual language that puts this in a league of its own.

"The Barbarian Invasions," by Canadian director Denys Arcand, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Hawai'i Theatre. A film about familial relationships, linked to his seminal work from 17 years earlier, "Decline of the American Empire."

• • •

The ups and downs of HIFF 2003

Thumbs up: The opening and closing night films will be screened at the expansive Hawai'i Theatre, easily the most beautiful hall in the state and a former movie palace restored to its original glory (well, except for the exterior). The theatre seats 1,400 — but avoid the no-legroom last row in the balcony.

Thumbs down: Popcorn is the snack of choice for movie-watching, but because of Hawai'i Theatre house rules, festival-goers will have to forego the munchies — and soft drinks, too, for that matter — for screenings there.

Thumbs up: "HIFF Previews," a sneak peek at highlights of the film festival, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on PBS Hawai'i, Channel 11 (Oceanic 10).

Thumbs down: Film critic Roger Ebert is skipping this year's HIFF festivities for health reasons.

• • •

Hawaii International Film Festival

  • Thursday-Nov. 9
  • Screening sites: Signature Dole Cannery Theatres, Hawai'i Theatre, The Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Queen's Surf Beach (Sunset on the Beach).
  • Information: HIFF box office at Signature Dole Cannery, 528-4433; Hawai'i Theatre, 528-0506; Doris Duke, 532-8768.
  • Ticket sales: At sites, on day of screenings; in advance at HIFF box office at Signature Dole Cannery; via fax at 521-5425; online at www.hiff.org.
  • Ticket prices: $8 adults, $7 children; free for HIFF 'Ohana members (additional tickets, $6); $7 military, students, seniors with ID; $10 for opening-night benefit screening Thursday.
  • Where to get the program guide: Blockbuster Video stores, HIFF box office at Signature Dole Cannery, screening sites such as the Hawai'i Theatre and The Doris Duke Theatre, and Starbucks locations; also online at www.hiff.org.
  • Neighbor Islands: Nov. 7-9

HIFF 'Ohana memberships

  • Students: $35 — six tickets now, one ticket to spring film festival.
  • Individual: $50 — six tickets now, one ticket to spring festival.
  • Premium: $100 — 12 tickets now, two tickets to spring festival.
  • Bronze: $250 — one O'ahu Flash Pass (admits one) or 20 tickets now, with priority admittance at screenings; four tickets to spring festival, invitation to reception with filmmakers.
  • Silver: $500 — two O'ahu Flash Passes (each pass admits one) or 40 tickets now, with priority admittance; six tickets to spring festival; invitation to reception with filmmakers.
  • Gold: $1,000 — two statewide Flash Passes (each admits one) or 60 tickets now, with priority admittance; eight tickets to spring festival, two O'ahu Flash Passes for spring festival; invitations to HIFF receptions.
  • General information: Phone 528-3456.