KAILUA-KONA — The Made in Hawaii Film Festival had more than just summer blockbusters to compete with last year.
Hurricane Lane was making landfall in Hilo that same weekend in August, and festival founders Zoe Eisenberg and Phillips Payson had to lower their expectations for the festival’s inaugural session with rain, wind, and mudslides threatening to keep Hawaii Island audiences away.
“We were just going to have a more intimate event, that was our expectations for last year, and then we had 300 people show up,” Eisenberg said. “So this year, we’re hoping to just grow the festival audience by the same as the meter of film. So we went from 18 films last year to 35, so we’re hoping to draw a larger audience over two days instead of one day, and just continue to get bigger and bigger every year.”
The expanded event this year will be held at the Palace Theatre in Hilo on June 1-2, with a bonus best-of night to be held at the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu on June 14. Thirty-five feature-length films, short films, television episodes and music videos filmed around Hawaii were selected to be shown at this year’s festival.
Eisenberg said she is looking forward to seeing how the festival will do with more selections, three days, and no severe weather — at least for now.
“I want to highlight how blown away we were by the attendance last year in the middle of a hurricane,” Eisenberg said. “It really showed us that the Hawaii Island audience wants to see films about where they live and shot where they live. That really encouraged us to keep growing the festival and keep it coming back.”
The feature-length films to be screened are “August at Akiko’s,” Eisenberg and Payson’s “Stoke,” and “Running for Grace,” all shot on Hawaii Island. The full-length documentary “Out of State” will also be shown.
“We had over 100 submissions, which is great for a regional festival,” Eisenberg said. “Everything has to be shot in Hawaii and that obviously makes our pool smaller than most festivals, even state festivals. We were excited to get so many submissions.”
Dominik Walczuk, of the Hilo-based media studio Gro Films, was one of the filmmakers who had a piece of work selected to be screened at the festival. A music video he shot on Hawaii Island with artist Nahko Bear, titled “Hamakua,” will be shown in Hilo that weekend.
“I met Zoe and Phillips last year and I was really intrigued on their perspective on the importance of a film festival here,” Walczuk said. “I immediately jumped on board with their motivation behind it, which is simply to connect everyone and share their work.
“I thought that was one of the most valuable things we were lacking in the community — more festivals to showcase art and have a place for people to connect and communicate.”
With Gro Films, Walczuk said he usually works with documentaries featuring subjects he believes have a great story to tell. With a push from Nahko Bear to create the music video for “Hamakua,” Walczuk believes he has found a unique way to tell a story to the festival’s audience.
“I really enjoy the creative process of telling a story and having a song that is a driving force behind it,” Walczuk said. “It’s really fun. It’s really pure celebration of life, and you just always walk away from making music videos feeling great.”
Another music video that was created on Hawaii Island to be shown at the festival is David Morrill’s “Substituation.” With animation and music by Morrill, the music video uses three-dimensional abstract animation to explore the landscape of Hawaii Island and what makes the island unique.
“It’s going to be really great to see something that I think is different than the rest of the stuff that’s going to be in the theater and get an impression on something I made specifically for this event,” Morrill said. “This music video I designed just for this festival, so it won’t be seen anywhere else and I’m not going to show it anywhere else again.”
For television, an episode of the webseries “Culinary Edge TV,” directed by Chef Ellard, will be shown.
Ellard originally created “Culinary Edge TV” six years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, but has since relocated to Hawaii Island. He said the show films all over the world “in search of authentic food adventures.”
The episode to screen at the Made in Hawaii Film Festival follows bodyboarding and surfing pioneer Mike Stewart as he talks about two things he is passionate about — surfing and food.
“I actually ran into him at Pohoiki (Beach Park), and somehow I had a feeling he would be into food,” Ellard said. “My show kind of combines eating and getting into local food with an adventure. I got the idea that we should tour a local farm, and then go down to the ocean have a surf session and then have a grill out, which is kind of like the quintessential Hawaii thing to do.”
The episode, with a runtime of 37 minutes, was filmed at Pohoiki Beach Park, at a spot called Dead Trees. Filmed before the 2018 Kilauea eruption, the episode now shows footage of a place that has been since covered by lava.
“It was just kind of a cool thing we were able to capture before it was no longer around,” Ellard said.
Also at the festival will be several industry information sessions, including a cinematography seminar with Emmy-nominated cinematographer Ron Garcia, who worked on television shows such as “Twin Peaks” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
“Our festival’s core is the filmmakers,” Eisenberg said. “We want to celebrate their work, we want to share their work with the audience and we really want to show them a good time. The filmmakers had a really good time last year, so we just listened to their feedback and we continue to build the festival that way.”
Info: Passes to the Made in Hawaii Film Festival, $15 for Kona and $30 for Hilo, can be purchased at mihff.org.