By Ana Currie in Pape’ete
Hawai’ian filmmaker Anne Keala Kelly’s newly released documentary Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai‘i was awarded a special jury prize at this week’s Festival International Du Film Documentaire Oceanien (FIFO) in Tahiti.
The packed Grand Theatre at Papeete’s Maison de la Culture exploded into loud cheers, hoots and applause when the special jury prize for Noho Hewa was announced last night at the closing event of the Festival International Du Film Documentaire Oceanien (FIFO) in Tahiti.
Jurors were moved by its raw and passionate portrayal of the struggles of today’s native Hawai’ians.
Noho Hewa had attracted considerable attention among the professional and community viewers for its edgy and explicit expression of the ongoing effects of colonialism in Hawai‘i.
For many Tahitian and other visiting Pacific island viewers, Kelly’s film enabled them to understand, for the first time, the realities faced by the Hawai’ian people in their own homeland, and the kanaka Maoli (native Hawai’ian) resistance to the desecration and obliteration of their culture by the US military, real estate development, and tourism pressures.
In the Hawai’ian language, hewa means “wrong” and noho means “to occupy.”
From the military exercises and bombings at Makua and Pohakuloa and the desecration of burial sites at Hokulia and Wal-mart, to Maoli homelessness – in stark contrast to the widespread construction of upscale gated communities – and the resistance to the Akaka bill, Kelly’s film weaves a context of understanding of how the US overthrow and continuing occupation of the sovereign kingdom of Hawai‘i affect every aspect of native Hawaiian life.
The film makes a case that through the force of US laws, economy, militarism, and real estate speculation, the Hawai’ian people are facing systematic, intentional obliteration.
The film features interviews with Hawaiian activists and academics, whose comments serve to further clarify the significance and direness of the ongoing erosion of Hawaiian culture.
That’s a message that resonates deeply with the people of the islands of the Pacific, most of whom continue to struggle with many of the same issues.
Noho Hewa was more than six years in production, and in 2008 won the Hawai’i International Film Festival’s Award For Best Documentary.
Kelly is a Hawaiian journalist and filmmaker who has reported on politics, culture, the environment and indigenous peoples.
Keala’s reports air regularly on the Pacifica Network’s Free Speech Radio News and her print journalism has appeared in The Nation, Indian Country Today, Honolulu Weekly, Hawai‘i Island Journal and other publications.
Her news footage has been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Democracy Now! and in September 2008 Keala co-produced The Other Hawai’i for Al Jazeera. She has an MFA in directing from University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
The Grand Prize winning film at FIFO was Te Henua E Noho, a moving film about the effects of climate change on a small island community.
Te Henua E Noho was directed by New Zealander Briar March and produced by On The Level Productions.
The winner of the Prix Selection du Public – the popular choice of screening audiences – was Terre Natale: Retour a Rurutu, directed by Jean-Michele Corillon and produced by Kwanza and Bleu Lagon Production and Canal Overseas.
A visually stunning and emotionally rich presentation, this documentary tells the story of two young adults, a brother and sister, who were born on the island of Rurutu in the Austral archipelago of French Polynesia and adopted as very small children by a French couple.
After growing up in France, they return to Rurutu to re-connect with their culture and rediscover their roots.
Three special jury awards were given; along with Noho Hewa, the Austalian film Bastardy and the New Zealand documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls were also given special tribute by the jury for their unique and compelling character.
FIFO is one of the Pacific’s major film events, a gathering of filmmakers, TV producers, and multimedia journalists from throughout the region to meet, network, and develop projects together.
The 2010 festival screenings attracted more than 20,000 viewers in four screening venues at the cultural centre.
Festival officials describe the event as a “meeting place for lovers of the Pacific, our vast region, which boasts such a varied and thriving cultural heritage, synonymous with dreaming, mystery and exploration . . . an enriching, sometimes astonishing, often surprising experience ranging over characters, identities, history and current affairs.”
Hawai‘i was represented at the festival by Kelly’s film, as well as by Olohega, a documentary produced by a partnership of Pasifika Foundation Hawai‘i (PFH) and Television New Zealand’s Tagata Pasifika.
Olohega was selected by the festival committee as one of the 25 films screened for general festival audiences in addition to the 17 films that were entered in the jury competition.
Both Noho Hewa and Olohega were also among the seven films chosen for special question-and-answer sessions, an indication of the intense interest generated by these Hawai‘i-based films.
Olohega chronicles the poignant and heartbreaking story of Tokelau’s fourth island, Olohega, which was claimed by an American whaling captain, Eli Jennings, in 1856.
In 1925, Jennings’ descendants used their American connections to successfully annex Olohega, known then as “Swains Island,” to the United States, and continue to maintain their ownership of the island today.
The film tells the stories of the Tokelauan people of Olohega who were forcibly evicted from their island home in the 1950s.
In their own words, the elders who now live in a tight-knit community on Oahu in Hawai‘i, describe their shock, sadness and shame at their eviction, as well as their longing to return to their beautiful and fertile island.
Only a handful of people now live on Olohega, an island that once, as communal farming land, supported many Tokelauan communities with its bounty of crops.
After announcing the special jury award for Noho Hewa, jury member Elise Huffer explained that every member of the jury had been deeply affected by Kelly’s film.
“This film is militant and uncompromising,” she said, adding that the jury was unanimous in choosing to award a special prize for this film that told such an important story in such a powerful way.
“I’m shocked and deeply honored,” said Kelly in a post-award interview.
“And for me the most important thing is that the message of the film was so strongly embraced by the jury, and by the audiences here. This is a story that needs to be told, and to be able to share it with other people of the Pacific is very meaningful to me.”
People shown in the winners and VIPs at the awards picture (from left): Dong-Ho Kin (jury member from South Korea); Adolphe Colrat (French Polynesia High Commissioner); Jean-Michel Corillon (director, Terre Natale); George Andrews (accepting award for Leanne Pooley, The Topp Twins); Anne Keala Kelly (director, Noho Hewa); Amiel Courtin-Wilson (director, Bastardy); Viri Taimana (jury member from Tahiti); Briar March (director, Te Henua E Noho); Florence Aubenas (Jury President); Gaston Tong Sang (President of French Polynesia); Olivier Poivre D’Arvor (jury member from France); Michael Kops (Regional Director, RFO Polynesie); Mita Teriipaia (Minister of Culture of French Polynesia). Photo: FIFO