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Sundance picks Sanga's 'Stones' for 2011 festival

By Mike Gordon

LAST UPDATED: 1:07 p.m. HST, Oct 9, 2014

What just happened to fledgling Hawaii filmmaker Ty Sanga is something akin to standing in a crowd during a thunderstorm and praying that lightning will find you. The organizers of the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious indie film events in North America, have accepted his short film "Stones."

The film was one of 81 short films selected from more than 6,400 submissions. It will be part of the festival's Indigenous Shorts Showcase when film reels start rolling next month in Park City, Utah.

The 29-year-old Sanga, who lives in Ewa Beach, knows what's at stake.

"It's one of those things that makes a filmmaker," Sanga said. "It has created so many people's careers. I don't want to think about it too much because I get freaked out. But it's an excellent opportunity."

Sanga is a home-grown product who took a circuitous path to the movies.

He grew up in Kalihi, graduated from Saint Louis School and enrolled at the University of Hawaii, where he took classes in computer science and hotel management before choosing to pursue a degree in ethnic studies.

He found his true calling while watching a documentary film about the struggles of Asian-Americans.

"It moved me in a way that I wanted to move others," he said. "Through film you can get it into their heart and their soul and make it their story."

Inspired, Sanga went on to cram every spare hour with classes about filmmaking at UH's Academy for Creative Media. Then he flew off to graduate school at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif.

Completed in 2008, "Stones" was part of his thesis project. Sanga filmed it in Hawaii, which meant he had to persuade his advisers at Chapman to send his crew of classmates to the islands for several months.

Set in ancient Hawaii and adapted from a legend, the Hawaiian-language film stars Moses Goods and Rava Shastid in a love story about a couple living in isolation. Their values are tested when they are suddenly confronted with their growing relationship with a young girl.

The faculty at ACM is understandably proud of Sanga's Sundance selection. While not an official graduate, he took so many classes he's something of an honorary alumnus. And now he teaches a screenwriting class.

At Sundance, success will be his to lose, said filmmaker Joel Moffett, an assistant professor at the academy.

"When you go to Sundance, it's a convergence of people who are trying to get their movies made and people who are trying to find people who want to make movies," he said. "Ty is a prolific writer, and he will position himself very, very well for pitching his work."

His advice to Sanga: Hire someone who can get him into "all the right parties."

But for the moment, Sanga is thinking more about how his vision will be received than what it might produce. "Stones" has been screened before, including at the Hawaii International Film Festival. At Sundance it will be the debut of a Hawaiian-language film and a window into the culture here.

"It's a slice of Hawaii they have never seen before," he said. "We are just trying to make it commonplace."

WITH A NEW administration preparing to help revive the state's economy, the Hawaii Actors Network wants to let Gov. Neil Abercrombie know its members are ready to work. Teddy Wells, actor and founder of the online social networking site, is planning an awareness rally from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at the Capitol.

"We want the governor to understand that we have enough interest in the film industry to go after it," Wells said. "It's worth it to put out extra effort to make sure that film producers choose us over other states."

The network, which includes actors of all experience levels, has grown from 2,800 members last summer to nearly 4,300 members.

"We're saying, 'We're here,'" Wells said. "If sought after more aggressively, we can be the second Hollywood."

YOU DON'T want to miss tomorrow's episode of "Hawaii Five-0" (9 p.m. on KGMB), and not just because James Marsters returns as Victor Hesse, the terrorist who murdered McGarrett's father in the pilot.

Tomorrow, Wo Fat is back. Honolulu-born Mark Dacascos — host of "Iron Chef America" — will star in the role made famous in the original series by Khigh Dheigh.

The episode also features a second generation of "Five-0." Dennis Chun, son of Kam Fong, the Honolulu actor who starred as the original Chin Ho Kelly, will appear as Sgt. Duke Lukela.

That's right — the same Duke Lukela originally played by the late Herman Wedemeyer.

AND that's a wrap.

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com.

CORRECTION: Hawaii filmmaker Ty Sanga's short film "Stones" was selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The headline on an earlier version of this story said it was selected for the 2012 festival.

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