Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i is a film series that redresses gender inequity in the film industry by documenting the real-life stories of Hawai‘i women filmmakers through a female gaze. Filmed by all-women crews, these six short portraits reveal untold stories of local activists and artists who preserve Hawai‘i history and culture through film. Six new films will have their world premiere at the 39th Hawai‘i International Film Festival on November 16 and 17.
Produced, filmed, edited and directed by local women filmmakers, these six short films profile women who helped build the local independent film industry as well as current working filmmakers at the top of their field.
At a time when the film industry has come under fire for its lack of women-directed and written films, the Reel Wāhine series reveals a long history of Hawai‘i-based films made by women. Producers Shirley Thompson and Vera Zambonelli grew the idea for the series after years of working for gender parity and equity in the film industry.
“Women filmmakers just aren’t getting the same opportunities as men, in terms of hiring, pay, access to financing and access to gatekeepers.” says series producer Shirley Thompson. “Film is a powerful medium that shapes our very society. If we exclude women from writing those stories, or deciding which stories get told, we are excluding women’s voices from shaping our society and our future.”
“In Hawaiʻi, we have a strong history of women behind the camera, including Native Hawaiians and women of color,” says series producer Vera Zambonelli, who is also Executive Director and founder of Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking. “Most of them had never told their stories before. And their accomplishments are great. We need to research, record, and disseminate this knowledge to counter the ways that academic and cultural histories regularly neglect women’s authorship and work in film and in the arts in general.”
Each short film features an accomplished Hawai‘i filmmaker recounting the challenges and triumphs of her life and career in just eight minutes. “People who document history shape society’s perception of what happened and why,” according to Jeanette Paulson Hereniko, founding director of Hawai‘i International Film Festival. “Reel Wāhine records women's unique role in shifting or changing the film culture of Hawai'i. In doing so, my hope is that Reel Wāhine not only encourages other women to be proactive in influencing Hawai'i society, but to also document how and why they did so.”
The local talent highlighted in Reel Wāhine runs deep. Myrna Kamae began producing documentaries in the 1980s with her longtime filmmaking partner and husband, Hawaiian music legend Eddie Kamae. Together they made ten films documenting important Hawaiian kupuna (elders) and kumu (teachers) and Hawaiian culture, language and music. Marlene Booth had a thirty-year film career in Cambridge, MA before moving to Honolulu in 2000 and turning her documentarian eye toward local culture. Her film PIDGIN THE VOICE OF HAWAI‘I won the audience award for best documentary at the 2009 Hawai‘i International Film Festival.
Prolific film editor and producer, Lisa Kealohilai Altieri is best known for the documentary features she has edited about Pacific Islander culture and history including SKIN STORIES, PAPA MAU and UNDER A JARVIS MOON. Independent filmmaker and hula dancer Lisette Marie Kaualena Flanary brings an insider’s perspective to her films featuring unique aspects of hula dance and Hawaiian culture.
Animator Laura Margulies creates works for hire for major national brands like Sundance and MTV, but her personal animated films show a powerful connection to the sounds, colors and local culture of Hawai‘i. Native Hawaiian rising star Erin Lau makes personal films about families and their struggles as a way of understanding her own community growing up on Oʻahu.
For fans of Hawai‘i film and television the Reel Wāhine shorts are small time capsules showing glimpses of old Hawai‘i, local heroes long passed away, clips from favorite TV shows and films, and the much younger visages of some well-known local personalities.
Series producers Thompson and Zambonelli, who each directed one of the six films, are doing their part to employ more women in key crew positions; including directors Kimberlee Bassford, Taylour Chang, Robin Lung and Renea Veneri Stewart. The directors also collaborated with and mentored young women graduates of Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking’s programs.
“We envisioned the series as an intergenerational project,” said Zambonelli, “where we put our active women filmmakers to work, documenting the stories of veterans of the field, while mentoring and training the next generation of Hawai‘i women filmmakers.”
The series received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and is a Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking production.
Season three of Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i is currently in pre-production. Thompson and Zambonelli are raising funds and seeking community allies and sponsors. They plan to begin filming six new films for the series in summer 2020.
Tickets for both screenings are available at hiff.org. Directors and featured cast members will be in attendance and will answer questions in a post-screening discussion.