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Isle filmmakers seize opportunity to screen work at hometown filmfest

By Mike Gordon


It doesn't matter whether you have the endorsement of an estate worth billions of dollars or just your mother's couch. If you're one of Hawaii's indie filmmakers, there's a genuine thrill if your work is selected for the prestigious Hawaii International Film Festival.

Darieus Legg, a 27-year-old former competitive surfer, sunk everything he had into his first feature film, and it will have its world premiere this week, thanks to HIFF. His "Ecila," which premieres Saturday at the Dole theaters, represents the last two years of his life: After graduating from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a marketing degree, he moved into his mother's Honolulu home to pursue filmmaking.

"This is the biggest thing I've ever done in my life," he said.

"Ecila" isn't about Hawaii — it's set in the fictional city of Belcapo. It mixes Legg's passion for Disney's version of "Alice in Wonderland," the adventure found in the Indiana Jones series and a touch of "Star Wars" futurama.

The 30th annual festival, which opens Thursday, will feature 23 local films. Narratives. Documentaries. Student works from the Academy for Creative Media. And short selections that will be screened either in theaters or online.

The local selections "cover every type of film you could imagine," said Chuck Boller, the festival's executive director.

"There is a documentary, 'Chasing Rainbows,' about the civil unions act here, and it's very informative," Boller said. "You have a documentary about Eddie Kamae, a legendary performer of Hawaiian music. And you have 'Ecila' and 'One Kine Day,' which could happen anywhere in the world but were shot in Hawaii."

Promoting local films has been a goal of the festival for several years. It even waives the $50 submission fee for local filmmakers, Boller said. Visiting press, from critic Roger Ebert to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, all want to know which of HIFF's films are from the islands, Boller said.

"What better festival to present Hawaii films than HIFF?" he said. "We respect our role and want to work with filmmakers to get their films on screen."

"One Kine Day" marks the directorial debut of Chuck Mitsui, who is best known locally as a pioneer in the Hawaii skateboard scene. The owner of 808 Skate got his start producing skateboard commercials and short programs.

The story of Windward Oahu skater/slacker Ralsto, who just discovered his girlfriend is pregnant, explores local culture in ways that previous films have ignored, Mitsui said. "One Kine Day" screens Oct. 18 and 23 at Dole. HIFF will play a role in his ability to tell other stories like this, he said.

"I think what is going to fuel it is how the local people receive the film," Mitsui said. "It is really going to be Hawaii that can push this film and claim it as a good representative of our culture. That is why we wanted to premiere at HIFF. We wanted the backing of the people of Hawaii."

HIFF can also create an audience that will look for your film when it screens again or becomes available on DVD, said Ruth Bolan, co-producer of "One Voice," a documentary about the annual Kamehameha Schools song contest that makes its Hawaii debut at HIFF Friday at Dole. It will also play at Sunset on the Beach Oct. 23 in Waikiki.

"For any kind of local film producer, the kind of exposure we are going to get at HIFF is critical," she said. "You will have an audience from around the world. It has a ripple effect in terms of your ability to not only market that film, but to raise money for subsequent projects."

In "One Voice," Bolan said, film crews focused on 10 song leaders for a year, from their breakfast tables to sports practices to riding the bus to school.

"We have some amazing footage of the kids struggling in rehearsal or stressing out, and that is what makes this film so wonderful," she said. "You get to take the journey with them, from the music in class to the night of the competition."

The finished product, the melding of thousands of voices performing a cappella, is a statement on Hawaiian culture being presented at Hawaii's premiere festival.

But it's also a testament to the power of film to move the spirit. "When you put faces on a screen that have never been seen on a screen before, you don't just make people aware of Hawaiian people, you enable the entire human race," Bolan said. "As a human being, this makes me proud and happy."

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. Reach him at 529-4803 or

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