A dolphin tale

  • Filmmaker Jonathon Kay, left, stands with Gerard Butler, who stars in Kay’s film, “Naya: Legend of the Golden Dolphin.” Courtesy Jonathon Kay

  • Filmmaker Jonathon Kay swims in Kealakekua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Filmmaker Jonathon Kay at Kealakekua Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Filmmaker Jonathon Kay at Kealakekua Bay. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KEALAKEKUA BAY — The first time filmmaker Jonathon Kay got in the water with the dolphins at Kealakekua Bay, “it was an amazing encounter,” he said.

He swam with a large spinner dolphin for what he said “seemed to be more than an hour,” losing track of time.


When he finally came up to check his location, he found himself “way, way out” and ended up hitching a ride back to shore with some kayakers from San Francisco.

“They’d never picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of the ocean ever before,” he said.

Kay, who lives in Captain Cook, is the director and producer behind the film “Naya: Legend of the Golden Dolphin,” the adventurous tale of a dolphin tasked with saving her kingdom, as told by an all-star cast.

And his experience of swimming with dolphins is one he wants others to be able to experience, too.

“For a lot of people around the world, say, particularly children or adults with disabilities that can’t make it out to Hawaii and experience dolphins first-hand, this film will be bringing the dolphins to them,” he said. “They will get to know the dolphins; they will have the experience of feeling the energy and love that the dolphins provide, and hopefully they will develop a love and an interest in supporting the dolphins and whales and all marine creatures by supporting the international conservation of the oceans.”

Kay wrote the film with Katie Ford, writer of the 2000 film “Miss Congeniality.”

The film is the action-adventure story of Naya, a golden dolphin in the magical underwater kingdom in the mythical Atlantica, located off Bimini in the Bahamas. The main character’s name comes from “nai‘a,” the Hawaiian word for “dolphin.”

After an oil tanker crashes into a buried treasure ship off the Bahamas, threatening to destroy the kingdom, Naya must save her kingdom and unite eight dolphin tribes across the world.

Naya’s quest takes her to destinations around the globe, including South Africa, Mozambique and New Zealand.

“And the Big Island is where it all comes together for her,” said Kay.

The film will be animated with photo-real computer-generated imagery, similar to 2016’s “The Jungle Book.”

Kay has lived in Hawaii for 12 years now and currently lives in Captain Cook, saying Hawaii Island isn’t just home for him, but is also “a place of healing.”

“It’s a place where you can live in nature and encounter the most beautiful marine life in the world and encounter dolphins almost every day,” he said. “To me, it’s a type of Shangri-La, the nicest place in the world to live, especially Captain Cook.”

The film features a cast of stars, including Quvenzhané Wallis — who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — as Naya. Wallis lists the film among her work on her personal website.

Other cast members include Gerard Butler as the king of the golden dolphins.

“Each of the actors that we have, they all have participated due to their love of dolphins,” Kay said.

Kay’s previous films include “Vegetarian World,” a documentary hosted by William Shatner, and “Walking After Midnight,” a documentary film which featured Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr and the Dalai Lama, among others.

Kay said one of his goals as a filmmaker is to not only tell a story, but also carry a positive message and impact.

“Film is a very powerful art form, very powerful form of media that has the ability to reach mass audiences,” he said. “Typically films that are released in theaters, people absorb what they see in cinema.”

With “Naya,” he said, he wants audiences to gain an awareness of the dangers and challenges— particularly man-made ones — that marine life faces in the ocean, such as over-fishing and pollution.

“The struggles that Naya is running into in the film, a lot of them are happening in real life,” he said.

The film is still in production, with 13 stars having recorded voice-overs and 60 percent of the live-action footage filmed in 8 locations.

What they still have to do, he said, is the photo-real animation for the action-adventure scenes and making the dolphins speak.


Kay is also looking for investors to help fund the project.

The anticipated release date is 2019 or 2020, he said.

  1. oh_yes_yes_yes January 27, 2018 7:14 am Reply

    Groan…. one more “loving Kona, swimming with dolphins, looking for a way to make money” guy joins all the others. Please let the dolphins sleep and ask yourself

    How would your life change if someone were to make a movie about what a wonderful healer you were and then pasted your address in the rolling credits at the end? As a human being you have recourse to suing or moving or making money off the hordes.
    As it is dolphins are allowed to sleep undisturbed less than 8% of their usual sleeping hours. What gives you the right to take that away?

    1. antifaHI January 27, 2018 7:35 am Reply

      Exactly! Reason for article at the end: Money needed.

      Last week I hiked to the bay and there were 14 (!) tour operator boats releasing tourists. Many with idling engines. Music blasting from loud speakers, BBQ smoke from one boat, operators yelling at the swimmers when illegally getting on land, saw one person pooping in the bushes, kayakers scratching their plastic boats over the rocks, people standing on coral heads, sunscreen layer shimmering on the water. Total circus.

      Then one by one zoomed to the center of the bay because dolphins appeared. Following the pods when they moved around. All the illegal stuff DNLR had closed the bay for when a kid died a few years back. What does it take if not death of a tourist for the DLNR to do anything? I see their official cars often at Target or Choicemart, but never at sites where it matters.

  2. wahineilikea January 27, 2018 9:10 am Reply

    Good grief. What an idiotic article, touting some so-called filmmaker nobody ever heard of, who wants more people to swim with dolphins. First of all, Mr. Kay, swimming with dolphins is a violation of the marine mammal act. Secondly, how can you be such a hypocrite to say your film (if you can manage to raise any money for it) will cause people to “develop a love and an interest in supporting the dolphins and whales and all marine creatures by supporting the international conservation of the oceans.” The swim-with-dolphins industry has directly contributed to the decline in our dolphin population – from some 2,500 individuals 15 years ago to fewer than 600 today. All the swimmers invading the dolphins’ space interrupt the dolphins’ natural resting behaviors, making them more vulnerable, because they were not able to rest, to shark predators at night when they are out in the open ocean feeding. So your dumb film will probably contribute to that decline.

    1. NevahHappen January 27, 2018 4:06 pm Reply

      Outstanding reply.

      Just reading this self congratulatory article teed me off. What a self-absorbed orifice.

      “gain an awareness of the dangers and challenges— particularly man-made ones” Yeah, like this dork.

    2. oh_yes_yes_yes January 27, 2018 9:25 pm Reply

      Aloha Wahineilikea, to make matters worse the guy is actually asking for funds in order to make a long advertisement that will promote his VRBO. Check out #552728
      His profile on Couchsurfing is a bit of a self-promoting piece of self-congradulatory fluff. It is a disappointment that commercial interests so easily use WHT for a forum.

  3. coincidance January 28, 2018 10:54 am Reply

    Someone tell the dolphin loving stars like Gerard Butler that this will hurt the dolphins. And what a stupid storyline. Why not make a movie about the real dangers dolphin face on the Big Island — tourists and greedy profiteers of all kinds? Sleep deprivation, sharks? And the fish full of plastic scrapings from the kayaks? Sure, it would be depressing and not a feel good fantasy, but better message for the dolphin health.

  4. coincidance January 28, 2018 10:58 am Reply

    Kay looks pretty stoned in that pic with Butler. Which I don’t care about his choice for himself, except he needs a reality dose about swimming with dolphins.

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