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Ocean filmfest returns with more compelling stories

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 9:36 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012

On New Year's Day 2010, while sailing off Kawaihae on Hawaii Island, Tania Howard and several friends spotted a humpback and her calf a quarter-mile away. Shutting off the Maile's engine, they decided to wait and see what the whales would do. To their surprise, mother and baby started swimming toward them at top speed.

When the whales reached the boat, they swam alongside, from stern to bow. "The mother looked up at us, reached out with her pectoral fin and touched the side of Maile the whole way," Howard said. "I could hardly speak. I'll never forget the sense of connection, and it bolstered my resolve to continue the project I had started."


» Jan. 3-6: Waimea, Hawaii island (Kahilu Theater, Hawaii Preparatory Academy Gates Theater and Parker School Theater for film showings; Anna Ranch and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for breakfast talks)

» Jan. 7-11: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, 72-1000 Kaupulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona

» Information: 854-6095,

» Website:, for the complete schedule

» Accommodations: The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (888-340-5662), Fairmont Orchid (800-845-9905), Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel (866-774-6236 for both) are offering special rates for festival attendees.


Festival passes provide admission to blocks of showings, presentations, breakfast talks, question-and-answer sessions, art exhibits, yoga sessions and outrigger canoe lessons. Individual tickets will be sold 15 minutes before each show.

» Waimea: Film Pass, $165 ($125 for kamaaina through Tuesday), includes admission to all films and activities; Six-Punch Pass $85 ($65 kamaaina) includes admission to six film or presentation blocks; Student Pass, $35; Taste of the Island (closing event), $85 ($65 kamaaina, $35 ages 5 to 10)

» Four Seasons Resort Hualalai: Film Pass, $165; Four-Punch Pass, $85; Day Pass, $85; Student Pass, $35; Hualalai Closing Reception, $35


At the time, Howard was showing a series of ocean-related films on Maui and Hawaii island — an idea born in 2009 when she saw the British documentary "The End of the Line," about the disturbing impact of overfishing, at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colo.

"I was shocked to learn how rapidly fisheries worldwide are being depleted, and what the implications are for local fishermen," Howard said. "It seemed important for the film to be shown in Hawaii."

Howard secured five other films about ocean issues and covered the cost of publicizing and screening the series. The response was enthusiastic, and in June 2010, right after the series' last showing, she decided to concentrate on one multiday film festival on Hawaii island. The Wai­mea Ocean Film Festival debuted six months later in January 2011, with Howard as its executive director.

The third annual festival will feature 39 films in three categories: Ocean Experience (such as surfing and paddling), Ocean Environment (how what we do on land affects the ocean) and Island Culture (focusing on Hawaiian culture but including others, too).

"Our programs spotlight extraordinary independent filmmakers with compelling stories to tell," Howard said. "This year they are coming from as far away as Britain, Norway and New Zealand. Part of the excitement is having some of them on hand to talk about their films after the showings. Attendees can also interact with them and other guest speakers at breakfast talks."

Energy use is always among the festival's topics; in addition to overfishing, Howard believes the most serious ocean issues relate to the use of oil, coal and nuclear power. "The enjoyment and benefits we derive from the ocean are ultimately affected by its health, and that, in turn, is affected by what we do on land," she said.

AMONG the speakers will be M. San­ja­yan, lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy and science and environmental contributor to CBS News, and Jeff Or­low­ski, director of "Chasing Ice." For that documentary, a possible Academy Award nominee, acclaimed photographer James Balog used time-lapse cameras to illustrate how climate changes are causing massive glaciers in the Arctic to melt at an alarming rate.

Cultural experiences include a photo exhibit and discussion of the famed canoe Hoku­le‘a's worldwide voyage, set to begin in June. Another presentation will feature a talk on way-finding by master navigator Chadd Pai­shon, executive director of Na Kalai Wa‘a (­kalai­, a nonprofit organization that preserves Hawaiian values and customs through non-instrument navigation and open-ocean voyaging.

The festival opens with a tribute to the late Jake Eberts, producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as "Gandhi," "Dances with Wolves," "Chariots of Fire" and "A River Runs Through It" and executive producer of the Disneynature documentary "Oceans." Eberts spoke at the inaugural festival, sharing insights about the making of that film, one highlight being the story of a videographer who dropped his camera while filming a whale.

"He started looking for the camera on the ocean floor — waving his arms and stirring up sand in the process," Howard said. "The whale swam over, picked him up with a pectoral fin and took him to the surface. It seemed to everyone there that the whale thought the man was in trouble and needed help."

The festival promises many such inspiring moments. "The ocean is part of the beauty and joy of Hawaii, and it's interwoven into the culture," Howard said. "The festival is designed to be fun, exciting and dynamic — and it is — but it also looks at the issues that increasingly impact us, and speaks to our role as stewards of the beautiful ocean around us."

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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