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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 27, 2003

Hawai'i actors take high profile in 'The Ride'

By Moon Yun Choi
Special to The Advertiser

Sean Kaawa portrays Duke Kahanamoku in Hawai'i filmmaker Nathan Kurosawa's "The Ride."

Nathan Kurosawa

He won the Hale Ki'i'oni'oni Award at the Cinema Paradise Film Festival for his short film "Kamehameha." Now, filmmaker Nathan Kurosawa is generating buzz for "The Ride," a made-for-TV surf movie with a high profile as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.

Kurosawa, a resident of Hawai'i and California, did most of the filming for "Kamehameha" and "The Ride" in Hawai'i. He finished the production work in Los Angeles, where he keeps most of his post-production equipment.

"Kamehameha" earned writer/director Kurosawa a $5,000 award given by the Movie Museum in recognition of excellence in local filmmaking. Judges praised it for its reflection of Hawai'i's history, and the movie has earned some interest from a major studio. But for now Kurosawa is concentrating on completing "The Ride," his first feature film. It premieres at HIFF on Saturday at Sunset on the Beach.

"The Ride" is a 90-minute, made-for-TV movie about a young, cocky contemporary surfer who goes back in time to 1911 Hawai'i after a surfing accident during a big surf contest in Hawai'i (see review, Page E1). David, the surfer played by Scot Davis, meets the young Duke Kahanamoku, played by Sean Kaawa, and learns about the spirit of surfing from innovators of the sport.

Mary Paalani appears opposite Kaawa in the film.

Nathan Kurosawa

Kurosawa says "The Ride" is a family film being marketed to cable TV channels such as Fox Family, the Disney Channel, ABC Family Channel, Hallmark, Showtime (family channel) and HBO.

"We're not really planning for a theatrical release, but because of the response and the exposure 'Kamehameha' got, especially with the (Hale Ki'i'oni'oni) Award in the festival, people have been approaching us to expand on the project," Kurosawa said. "We're possibly considering an episodic series or a full length feature, but that's still in the works.

"I think ('Kamehameha') is unprecedented, in that no one has seen ancient Hawai'i depicted with that kind of cultural and historical accuracy, again with that kind of production value," Kurosawa said.

"I don't think it's ever been done, so despite the fact that it is a short film, people haven't seen it on the big screen as they saw it in the (Cinema Paradise Film) Festival."

Peter Britos, who was one of the three judges for the Hale Ki'i'oni'oni Award, said "Kamehameha" deserved the award because "the subject matter was very courageous, given its historical precedence."

Scot Davis plays a haole surfer who is transported back to the time of Duke Kahanamoku in "The Ride."

Nathan Kurosawa

Britos is director of the Academy of Creative Media Information & Computer Sciences at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Britos said that most films shot in Hawai'i have been about Mainland protagonists, so the fact that the filmmaker used Native Hawaiians as central characters was very compelling.

"It was a step in the right direction for filmmaking in Hawai'i," Britos said. "And they used the Hawaiian language in a compelling way, which was also very forward-looking and courageous."

As for "The Ride," Kurosawa says the full-length film is completed, and the color is being fine-tuned in a Los Angeles studio.

"The Ride" was shot on 16 mm film using local cast and crew, and was largely filmed in the Islands.

Although "The Ride" was shot on high-quality film, Kurosawa notes that at Sunset on the Beach, where it will be screened Nov. 1, the projection system is digital video, so there will be a difference in the look. It could be worthwhile for fans of the movie to seek out a future film screening to see the movie as it was intended.

The chemistry on display among the actors who play beachboys in "The Ride" is one of the film's lively strengths.

Nathan Kurosawa

As for casting, Kurosawa hand-picked his crew. Most aren't professional actors, but he was pleasantly surprised with their performances, which reflected his view of the dignity of Hawai'i's people. "We wanted to make sure it was true to how we perceive ourselves."

Kurosaw said there are a lot of beautiful and talented people in Hawai'i, but there aren't many projects around to utilize their talents. In particular, he says, casting local people for lead roles is very rare.

"They're usually cast in supporting roles or very flat characters, so you can't see them blossom as true thespians," he said.

"A lot of times, big studios come to Hawai'i and cast locally for the minor characters. Yet when it comes to direction and performance, they kind of overlook it, or it takes a back seat to being props in the background. Because these characters were the leads, we took a lot of time and effort to make sure that we got quality performances, because this is a local production and we really wanted to cater to the local audiences."

Kurosawa credits his crew for contributing to the authenticity of the period-piece look of both films.

And there's more in store for this Hawai'i filmmaker. Kurosawa, an alumnus of the Loyola Marymount University MFA film program, is finishing a new script, he says, and working on projects for television.