Made for the islands: New festival opens doors for local filmmakers

  • A still from the short documentary "Reefs at Risk," which will screen at the Made in Hawaii Film Festival on Saturday. (MIHFF/Courtesy Photo)
  • A still from the short documentary "Shape," which will screen at the Made in Hawaii Film Festival on Saturday.(MIHFF/Courtesy Photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Two years after the Big Island Film Festival had its curtain call, two filmmakers from Puna have created a new way to celebrate Hawaii’s film industry.

Together, Zoe Eisenberg and Phillips Payson have started the former festival’s successor with the Made in Hawaii Film Festival, a one-day event in Hilo on Saturday to showcase 18 different films all shot in Hawaii and made by independent and local filmmakers.

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“We really came at this festival with a local-centric vision,” Eisenberg said. “We’re only screening films made in Hawaii. We have a preference for Hawaii Island-based filmmakers and we have a preference for emerging filmmakers. New filmmakers often have a harder time getting their work seen and I think film festivals are a really important step on your way to becoming a seasoned filmmaker. I wanted to make sure that Hawaii had a platform for new filmmakers to show their work.”

The festival begins at 10 a.m. at the Palace Theater with an industry panel of six Hawaii-based professionals in the film industry. The films are then being screened throughout the entire day in genre blocks, starting with “HIFF Selects &Other Shorts” followed by “Haunted Hawaii” and “Music Matters” and ending with two feature-length films — “#Wanderlust” and “Kuleana.”

Payson, who is technical director, said one of the main motivations behind creating the new festival was to encourage filmmakers on Hawaii to make connections and create new films. Eisenberg and Payson are local filmmakers themselves and their resume includes the films “Aloha from Lavaland” and “Throuple,” which were both made on Hawaii Island. Eisenberg said with the amount of local films submitted to the festival, choosing only 18 was the most difficult part of planning the inaugural event.

“The festival is only one day. We hope to grow in the future, but for now, we only have on day to program as many films as possible,” Eisenberg said. “We had a lot of amazing films submitted, and we had to narrow it down to 12 hours of content.”

One of the films representing Hawaii Island at the festival is the documentary “Livin’ on a Rock.” Directed by Steven Roby, the film follows musicians on the island and the struggles they face as they try to make a living creating music.

“I’ve been a music journalist since the 1980s and a best-selling author, and all I’ve written basically is about music and musicians,” Roby said. “When I got here, I wanted to make a documentary that reflects the current music scene and show its diversity. I wanted to show the diversity of the music genres found here and the many challenges musicians have here — long distances between gigs, low-paying gigs, how they barely make gas money to pay for their passion for music and the limited number of venues that are available on the island for musicians.”

“Livin’ on a Rock” had been previously shown at the Honokaa People’s Theatre in Roby’s hometown, but the film being shown at the festival is an updated version that was edited after receiving audience feedback.

“I hope the film educates locals and mainlanders that haven’t experienced the music scene,” Roby said. “The tourists that come here really only see the resort side of the music scene.”

Another documentary at the festival that showcases Hawaii Island is the short “Reefs at Risk.” Co-directed by Malina Fagan and Lynn Pelletier, the film was created with the help of a grant from the Redford Center, and is a part of a longer film yet to be released about toxic chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products. The focus of “Reefs at Risk” is chemicals in sunscreen and their effects on reefs in Hawaii.

“It’s fun every time we do a screening. We enjoy doing screenings and educating the community, because especially in Hawaii, it’s something we can do to help our coral,” Fagan said. “Like just changing your sunscreen and having that awareness. It’s something simple that we all can do.”

The films showing at the festival cover a wide range of topics, both fiction and documentaries, but they all have their roots in Hawaii. Along with the films, three lava-focused music videos by local musicians — “Our New Life” by Drew Daniels, “Pele’s Way” by Jeremiah Lofgreen and “Pangea” by Derek Frey — will also be screening.

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“I think the one defining characteristic that was present through the films that ended up in our program this year was a tangible sense of passion,” Payson said. “They’re definitely great, unique projects. We have a lot of great first-time filmmakers and young filmmakers that we wanted to encourage. At the bigger festivals around the country it’s very frustrating to be an independent filmmaker trying to get eyes on your first project. It’s a very frustrating position just to be faced with the lack of opportunity.”

Info: For more information on the Made in Hawaii Film Festival or to purchase tickets, visit mihff.org. Tickets are $20 for a full-day pass, or $12 for one block.

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