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Editorial | Island Voices

Keeping country country is good for isle film industry

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Pundits, hoteliers and developers have erroneously framed the battle to keep Oahu’s beautiful North Shore as a fight between jobs and the environment.

But the importance of the country to our lucrative film industry and high-tech film jobs has been overlooked. If the country is overbuilt, many profitable film productions will choose to shoot elsewhere. Overcrowding in such a key scenic filming area will cause Hawaii to lose this source of 21st-century visual media jobs.

Hollywood production companies choose Hawaii because of our spectacular scenery and pristine beaches.

The hit TV series "Lost" was filmed extensively in the country. This year, a record number of projects with estimated production expenditures of more than $262 million is scheduled to film in Hawaii.

Many of these new productions, including the new "Hawaii Five-O" and the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, will showcase Hawaii’s beauty.

The five miles of pristine beaches at Turtle Bay are one of the most important film sights in Oahu.

Countless productions, from the original "Hawaii Five-O" and "Knight Rider" to "Lost and "The Hills" have been filmed there.

"Soul Surfer," the Bethany Hamilton story, recently wrapped up filming at Turtle Bay.

The recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision to require a new comprehensive environmental impact statement for Turtle Bay will slow down large-scale development, but won’t stop it.

Many movies are filmed in scenic locations along Kamehameha Highway in Windward Oahu. Kualoa Ranch in Kaaawa has been the sight of many blockbusters, including "Jurassic Park," "Godzilla," "Windtalkers" and "50 First Dates."

But cost-conscious Hollywood film crews cannot afford to spend their time stuck in gridlock traffic along the narrow Kamehameha Highway. If the country becomes overbuilt and logistics become too difficult, crews will not come to Hawaii to film.

Successful movies and TV series filmed in Hawaii are invaluable advertising for the state’s tourism industry. Losing the country and these films would mean losing millions of dollars worth of free publicity and advertising for Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Moreover, decision makers have not fully understood the potential of 21st-century visual media to empower our rural communities. Even though Hollywood filmmakers frequently film at Turtle Bay, the spirited but small media program at Kahuku High School and Kahuku Olelo TV Training Center struggle to procure funding and community support. The high school makes do with meager, outdated equipment.

However, many young people who live in the country have skills that can fit perfectly with the film and television industry. The tremendous success of the Waianae High School’s Searider Production shows how creative and talented our youth can be when empowered with television training programs and good equipment.

The music, dance and performing arts talent is also exceptionally strong in the country. The Polynesian Cultural Center is a world-class performing arts center. Many of our youth are athletic, and stunt work would be both fun and easy for them. The local community could shine both in front of and behind the camera. These talents could easily be translated into good jobs and media success.

For Hawaii it is impera-tive to diversify the economy and develop visual media technology and jobs. In an era of H1N1, SARS, global terrorism and volatile oil prices, it is foolish and irresponsible to continue to anchor even more of the state’s economy on hotels and tourism.

TV, film and visual media mesh well with the gifts and talents of many local youth. Developing a successful visual media industry and well-paying jobs will allow more local people to afford a home in Hawaii.

The future of the country is not a choice between jobs and the environment, but a choice between what types of jobs to have.

Do we want to lock in an economic structure that generates more tourism, overcrowding, overbuilding, lower-skilled service jobs and traffic gridlock? Or, do we want a diverse range of employment opportunities in the country: agriculture supplemented with high-tech, well-paid, creative 21st-century media jobs?

A more balanced, diversified economy is a strong economy. Keep it country — grow film jobs!

K.C. Connors is a community activist in Koolauloa and an occasional volunteer producer with Olelo Public Television.


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