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.