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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2007

Movie about Princess Ka'iulani to start production in fall

By Lesa Griffith
Advertiser Staff Writer

Princess Ka'iulani, will be played by 12-year-old Kaimana Pa'aluhi of O'ahu, below, and by actress Q'orianka Kilcher, bottom, a former Honoluluan, in a yet-untitled $9 million movie by English filmmaker Marc Forby.

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A film about Hawai'i's Princess Ka'iulani, who in her short life witnessed the overthrow of the monarchy and strove to restore Hawaiian self-rule, is under way with an A-list team of filmmakers and a rising young star.

This fall, English filmmaker Marc Forby will begin production on the as-yet-untitled film about the revered princess' attempt to restore her nation's monarchy.

Playing the title role is former Hawai'i resident Q'orianka Kilcher, who captivated audiences and critics as Pocahontas in Terence Malick's 2005 epic "The New World" opposite Colin Farrell.

A 12-year-old O'ahu girl is following in her footsteps. After an extensive search, Forby has cast unknown Kaimana Pa'aluhi as the adolescent Ka'iulani.

"We are taking a chance with Kaimana," said Forby, "as she has no acting experience, but it was important to me that this film would star a part-Hawaiian girl, and I think she has the talent to bring the young princess to life."

Forby, who has strong ties to Hawai'i his wife, Leilani Forby, is from O'ahu is working with producers Nigel Thomas and Lauri Apelian of Matador Pictures. Those two are the team behind British director Ken Loach's Irish civil war film "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," which took the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

He is hoping to clinch a costume designer about whom he can only say has won Oscars and "is the best in the business."

A HAUNTING IMAGE

It started with a photograph. The filmmaker was at 'Iolani Palace years ago when he saw an image of Princess Ka'iulani.

"I found it very haunting and did some additional research at the state archives," Forby said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. "I found that this was a point of view to tell the story of the overthrow."

Forby, who also wrote the script, tells the story from Ka'iulani's point of view.

"It's as much about the growth of a young woman into a stateswoman as it is about the demise of a nation. She's the cinematic way to tell that story," he said.

Born and raised in England, Forby attended film school straight out of high school.

"I bought my first camera at 15 and I always knew I wanted to direct," said Forby. But his first feature had to be something that was important to him.

Without the right project, he instead learned the film business working as a producer for years. His past credits include 2002's "29 Palms."

"It wasn't until that day at the palace that I decided what would be my directorial debut," said Forby. "It took many years of research to get the script to where it is."

Hawai'i Film Commissioner Donne Dawson, who has been working with Forby, says his dedication to researching the story and consulting with experts in Hawai'i impressed her.

"The knowledge he already had about Ka'iulani when I first met him about four years ago was eye-opening for me as a Hawaiian, and as someone who thought she knew the story of Ka'iulani. He had done his homework," Dawson said.

The princess was educated in England, and Dawson also cites the research Forby did there.

"There was this whole other side to her life people in the Hawaiian community don't know," said Dawson.

Though Forby is working with just $9 million chump change by Hollywood standards to make his film, he says it will be "David Lean on a budget." (Back in 1962, Lean made "Lawrence of Arabia" for about $15 million.)

THE HAWAIIAN FACTOR

Although Kilcher is not Hawaiian, her background parallels that of the royal woman she will play. The daughter of a Peruvian man of Quechua-Huachipaeri descent, Kilcher, though only 17, has campaigned extensively for indigenous rights, founding on-Q Initiative, an environmental and human rights youth group, and spoke last year on a United Nations' panel on indigenous rights.

"Q'orianka brings a strong indigenous voice to this character," said Dawson. "There was a very significant casting attempt to find a part-Hawaiian actress who could carry the role. It's not for lack of trying. Q'orianka brings cachet to the role in terms of her indigenous voice, the work she has done for her own people and her experience level. We're very fortunate that she's able to do this role."

Kilcher lived in Honolulu as a child, and moved with her family to California when she was 10. After being cast as Pocahontas, the Latino community honored her with the ALMA award for outstanding film actress in 2006 and she took the National Board of Review's award for breakthrough performance by an actress. But she has been absent from the big screen recently, and it's by choice.

"She's been offered a tremendous amount of work in Hollywood," said Forby, "but she's been turning it down because she's a very spiritual girl and is involved in environmental and human rights."

As with Forby, Ka'iulani's story struck a chord with Kilcher.

"(Ka'iulani) fought hard to try to restore her nation and she went to Washington, D.C., to do that," said Dawson. "What Q'orianka has done for indigenous people in the modern day is an important parallel especially given the challenges that Native Hawaiians are facing in this day and age."

AUTHENTIC LANGUAGE

Dawson was instrumental in getting more Hawaiian language into the script. She pointed out to Forby how American Indian dialogue added authenticity to "Dances With Wolves."

"He immediately started consulting language experts," said Dawson. "Some of them had historical understanding of how the language was spoken back then, and he incorporated much more 'olelo in the dialogue."

For Dawson, "it's important that Hawai'i's story be told on a much bigger stage. We are at a very critical juncture now where it's important that people know our history."

And Ka'iulani's story is one that "we can really get our arms around in today's world," said Dawson. "The combination of who's coming to the table and producing the film is important because that is going to say everything about whether the film is able to reach a broad audience."

"Hawaiians have suffered a hundred years of tiki-bar culture imposed on them by Hollywood," said Forby. "The film hopes to reverse that trend by telling the truth."

Reach Lesa Griffith at lgriffith@honoluluadvertiser.com.