Hawaii News | Tech View Tech View: Polynesian digital-media themes receive HIFF platform By Rob Kay Dec. 7, 2021 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! COURTESY PHOTO Cubero del BarrioCOURTESY PHOTO Vilsoni Hereniko During the past two years, when tourism imploded, digital media was one of the few shining stars in our beleaguered economy. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. During the past two years, when tourism imploded, digital media was one of the few shining stars in our beleaguered economy. The Honolulu International Film Festival is a key component in expanding this sector. By providing a watering hole for local filmmakers, writers, actors and directors it has become a vital element to bring Polynesian-themed works to the world. Case in point were two films that premiered at HIFF last month. The first was an animated short, “Sina ma Tinirau” (Sina and Tinirau) from Vilsoni (aka Vili) Hereniko. a Honolulu-based filmmaker and professor at the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii. Vili, who hails from Rotuma, a Polynesian outlier in the Fiji archipelago, said “‘Sina ma Tinirau’ is an ancient, oral tale that has endured the test of time because it embodies our sensibilities, worldviews, and aesthetics as Polynesians.” Hereniko’s mission is clearly to make the wisdom of traditional Polynesia accessible to the rest of us. A prince (Tinirau), who is cursed to become an eel, must win the love of a beautiful woman (Sina) to become human again. He gifts her with his body in the form of a coconut palm in a seductive display of courtship. The film is narrated in English with some dialogue in Rotuman, which is subtitled. This lends an authenticity to the story. At first blush, it sounds like a conventional romantic love story between a man and a woman. However, beneath the surface, there’s a lot more going on. Hereniko explained, “Sina and Tinirau share an unconditional, Christ-like love exemplified by forgiveness. It’s as central to our culture as the Crucifixion of Jesus would be in the West.” The myth also explores origins of the Polynesian tree of life (the coconut palm) and, as Hereniko explained, “Polynesian prejudice against black skin.” “Racism,” he said, “is not confined to one race.” The project, which was funded by grants from the University of Hawaii and European Union, was a collaborative effort between several UH faculty at the ACM and their animation students. Return to Pukapuka The other Polynesian-themed work that hit home for me was “The Island in Me,” a documentary by Gemma Cubero del Barrio, a Spanish/American documentary director and producer. She takes us to Pukapuka, a remote atoll with 400 inhabitants. The film traces the lives of two women, Amelia Hokulea Borofsky and Johnny Frisbie (both Honolulu residents), who lived there and return home after decades away. Borofsky, the daughter of anthropologist Robert Borofsky, lived in Pukapuka in the mid-1970s while Frisbie, daughter of author Dean Frisbie, was there in the late 1930s. Despite the difference in generations, the common ground of Pukapuka is key to their personal journeys. Amelia is anxious to find the key to her childhood trauma and Johnny needs one last time to visit her brother, Charlie, who she hasn’t seen in 30 years. We learn filmmaker Cubero del Barrio has her own reasons to visit Pukapuka, and as she explained to me, became a reluctant subject of her own film. (You’ll have to see the film to find out). Cubero del Barrio does a masterful job balancing a number of themes: memory, identity, trauma and motherhood, just to name a few. Perhaps the film’s highlight is the intimate portrait of Johnny, a formidable, wise woman and author in her own right. Her book, “Miss Ulysses of Puka-Puka,” first published in 1948 (and recently republished), is an account of her life on Pukapuka. Her life is the stuff of novels. During a hurricane her father tied her and her siblings to a Tamanu tree on the atoll of Suwarrow. The island, not more than 6 feet high, was swept over by waves and tying the kids to the tree saved their lives. The film is also a “South Seas” ethnography of sorts. We get up close and personal with the Pukapukans, at home, at church, fishing, and of course, husking coconuts. To her credit, Cubero del Barrio tells it like it is. There is no phony romanticism or sentimentality projected on the indigenous people. Both “Sina ma Tinirau” and “The Island in Me” were hatched, produced, edited and created in the Aloha State. With HIFF as a launching pad, it’s clear Hawaii can be an incubator and a platform for for Polynesian-themed digital media. It’s only the beginning. ——— Rob Kay writes about technology, sustainability, healthy aging and is the creator of Fijiguide.com. Contact him at Robertfredkay@gmail.com. Previous Story New Waikiki restaurants rise amid COVID pandemic Next Story Kokua Line: How long will it take to get water results?