Hawai'i contingent helps heat up Sundance festival
By Don Brown
Special to The Advertiser
|"The Land Has Eyes," by University of Hawai'i-Manoa professor Vilsoni Hereniko, made its debut Friday at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Te Maka Productions
"Riding Giants," a paean to modern surf culture, was screened on opening night, Thursday. Stacy Peralta's follow-up to "Dogtown and Z-Boys," his Sundance award-winner on underground skateboard culture, "Riding Giants" features Hawai'i from start to finish. The state was also well-represented at the screening by Kaua'i, Big Island and O'ahu film commissioners and Hawai'i Film Office head Donne Dawson. When Kaua'i Film Commissioner Tiffani Lizama found herself sitting three seats from Robert Redford, she passed a Kaua'i film hat down the row to him just before the lights went down. "He wore it coming out of the film," she said. "One picture with that on his head is worth a thousand you know what Hawai'i film, baby!"
The chilly temperatures didn't dim the star power at the festival, either. Long lines greeted Matt Dillon as he arrived for the premiere of his film "Employee of the Month" on Friday, and Jennifer Aniston arrived with all-female entourage to slip in a side entrance.
Friday also saw the premiere of University of Hawai'i-Manoa professor Vilsoni Hereniko's "The Land Has Eyes," set on the Fijian island of Rotuma, Hereniko's birthplace. Six years in the making, this film tells the story of a girl who must defend her family's name after a false charge is made against her father.
Fijian musicians serenaded the audience as they arrived at the theater for the Friday-afternoon screening. Pacific Islanders in Communications director Carlyn Tani and program director Annie Moriyasu had ginger lei ready for director/writer Hereniko, producer Jeannette Paulson Hereniko and the star of the film, Sepeta Taito, looking radiant in a mother-of-pearl necklace. Not only had the 17-year-old native Rotuman never seen snow before (and she got enough for a lifetime on this trip), she had never heard of Sundance or Robert Redford.
Paired with a short film from New Zealand, "The Land Has Eyes" received an enthusiastic reception from the audience with a lively question-and-answer session. Cinematographer Paul Atkins, just off the plane from an MTV shoot with Cameron Diaz in Chile, also attended, as did sound coordinator Gracie Atkins, assistant director and actor James Davenport, co-producer Corey Tong, executive producer Merata Mita, and New Zealand actress Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors), who flew in directly from Los Angeles and slipped in after the lights went down.
"We were thrilled by the warm reception to the film," says Carlyn Tani. "It perfectly fulfills PIC's mission to share the culture of Pacific Islanders with the world."
After "The Land Has Eyes" screened, the Fiji Visitors Bureau, Air Pacific and Fiji Audiovisual Commission threw a party in a tent behind the Sundance Marriott headquarters, featuring Fijian music and a lively Rotuman dance troupe that exhorted audience members to join in. Hereniko managed to combine a few of Elvis' moves along with Rotuman steps that had revelers cheering to the rafters.
Hereniko heads to the Rotterdam Film Festival directly from Sundance. At the party, Paulson Hereniko was approached by a representative from the Moscow Film Festival for a screening there.
Saturday morning, Maui Film Festival director Barry Rivers entertained the cast and crew of "Riding Giants" with a brunch at Cafe Turigo, doubling as the "Coconut Wireless Cafe" on Park City's historic Main Street. Dawson, Maui Film Commissioner Benita Brazier and Big Island Film Commissioner Marilyn Killeri were seen mixing it up with surfers Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Gerry Lopez, Dave Kalama and surfing vet Jeff Clark. Hamilton shared parental duties with his wife, volleyball player Gabrielle Reese, showing off their 4-month-old daughter, Reese. The brunch crowd was given purple orchid leis that were seen all up and down Main Street in the 26-degree temperatures for the rest of the day.
This is the second time the Maui Film Festival has had a significant presence at Sundance, repeating Rivers' success in attracting attention with his "Kava Java Cafe" last year. "The Maui Festival is poised to really take off this June, and this was our second stage booster event," he said.
Monday night it was the film commissioners' turn to play host with a party that has become increasingly popular at the Images of Nature Gallery, next to Main Street's Egyptian Theater. Fresh lei were shipped in for the event with entertainment from a Provo, Utah, hula halau.
It was one of the Hawai'i events many had marked on their calendars. According to Honolulu Film Commissioner Walea L. Constantinau, this is a chance for producers and studio executives to check out the islands as a location and demonstrate some of the advantages of production in the state.
Also spotted taking in the sights on Main Street was Hawai'i International Film Festival chairman Jeffrey Portnoy with his wife, Sandy.
Yesterday night, Pacific Islanders in Communications threw a party for "The Land Has Eyes" after its second showing, featuring kalua pig, taro chips, fresh fruit, and spontaneous hula. Producer Jeannette Hereniko explains: "This was a chance to give the film a Hawaiian presence as well, and to introduce the film commissioners and Pacific Islanders in Communications to the Sundance crowd." The film will receive a Salt Lake City showing today for the large Pacific Islander community there.
Don Brown attended Sundance to gather material for an Oceanic Channel 16 program, "Hawaii's Reel Stories." Find out more about the Sundance Film Festival at www.sundance.org.