‘Kuleana’ explores conflict of development with tradition
Writer/director Brian Kohne, a long-time Maui resident, presents his new film, “Kuleana,” which premiered at film festivals last year and begins screening on Oahu this week.
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“The beaches they sell/ To build their hotels/ My fathers and I once knew …”
Hawaiians had been getting shunted off their ancestral land in the name of “progress” for more than a century when Liko Martin and Thor Wald wrote the song now known as “Waimanalo Blues” in the early 1970s.
Writer/director Brian Kohne, a long-time Maui resident, explores some of these issues with his new film, “Kuleana,” which premiered at film festivals last year and begins screening at the Consolidated Kahala and Kapolei theaters. It opens at Consolidated Pearlridge on April 6.
The year is 1971. Hawaiian is almost extinct as a spoken language. Many of the traditional practices are fading away. Childhood friends Nohea (Moronai Kanekoa), a Vietnam veteran, and Kim (Sonya Balmores) find themselves pitted against Kim’s father, a ruthless real-estate developer who never saw a parcel of unspoiled land he didn’t want to exploit.
Directed by Brian Kohne
>> Info: hawaiicinema.com
>> Note: A Q&A with Kohne and actor Moronai Kanekoa follows the 7:30 p.m. screenings Friday and Saturday at Consolidated Kahala.
The Hawaiian word “kuleana” can be translated as “responsibility,” and the friends must wrestle with their power and responsibility in the face of wrongdoing.
Subplots include an unsolved murder, a missing child, the desecration of Kaho‘olawe as a bombing target, and a sinister character known as “The Moke.”
Hawaii residents will note the performances of local celebrities Mel Cabang, Marlene Sai and Augie T.
When Kohne’s family moved to Maui from Detroit in 1969, the island of Kaho‘olawe had been used as military bombing target for more than 25 years. From his new home in Ma‘alaea, the 5-year-old watched the island “get annihilated” day and night. Adults seemed to think it was OK; young Brian didn’t think it was right.
“It burned a hole in my heart, and making this movie, ‘Kuleana,’ was one way to finally address how I feel about about it,” Kohne said via email while on tour promoting the film. “‘Kuleana’ is very much about our relationships with life and death, and how indigenous Hawaiian view these matters.
“I truly love the people of Hawaii; so ‘Kuleana,’ for me, is a celebration of who we are and what makes us both special and unique. How we live together despite our differences and the values embedded in ‘olelo Hawai‘i (the Hawaiian language) are guiding lights the world needs right now.”
Among the issues Kohne addresses in “Kuleana” is the conflict between preservation and development. Do we preserve a parcel of land with cultural significance at the expense of the benefits developers promise? Kohne wants audiences to make their own choices about who the heroes and villains are in “Kuleana,” and why they do what they do.
“‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but virtually no one is spared from the choices they are asked to make,” he said. “Every character — and there are many — face a choice (and) wrestle with their kuleana. Some make better choices than others. The characters aren’t based on any particular person, but many whom I observed and knew over the years, and certainly the issues of the past and present.
“It’s a very complex story and deeply personal at the same time,” Kohne said. “I hope it will spur curiosity about the past, and action in the present.”