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Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi at HIFF 2018

Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi was a special presentation at Hawai‘i International Film Festival. It screened on November 10 at 1:15 and was a very special time for everyone involved!

Produced, filmed, edited and directed by local women filmmakers, Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi is a series of six short films profile women who helped create and 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, Reel Wāhine reveals a long history of Hawai‘i-based films told through a female gaze.

Producers Shirley Thompson and Vera Zambonelli grew the idea for the series after years of working for gender parity in the film industry. “We were frustrated with the common misperception that there are no great women directors or writers or camera crew to hire,” says series producer Shirley Thompson.

“The problem is that women’s accomplishments often go unsung, and that women themselves tend not to promote or celebrate their own successes. We want to shine a light on talented women who broke through tough gender barriers in a notoriously male-dominated industry to tell uniquely Hawai‘i stories through the lens of a camera.”

In Hawaiʻi, we have a strong history of women behind the camera, including Native Hawaiians and other 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 featured a storied filmmaker recounting the challenges and triumphs of their lives and careers in eight short minutes. “People who document history shape society’s perception of what happened and why,” according to Jeanette Paulson Hereniko, one of the women filmmakers profiled. “Reel Wāhine records six 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. Hereniko began making educational films in Honolulu in the 1970s, produced the first feature film on the island of Rotuma (The Land Has Eyes), and founded the Hawaii International Film Festival, now in its 38th year. Victoria Keith (Sand Island Story) began making independent films in the 1970’s documenting land struggles in the Waikane and Waihole valleys. She went on to become Hawai‘i’s first woman news photographer at KGMB in the 1980’s. Victoria Keith was one of the first independent filmmakers in Hawai‘i. “I started making video documentaries in Hawai’i 42 years ago, so I suppose I am the “auntie” of the group! It’s so encouraging to see the evolution of women’s involvement in filmmaking since those early days. Women are creating, producing, and fully participating now, as these films so beautifully show.”

Heather Haunani Giugni, another KGMB newsroom alumn, launched the first woman-owned video production company in Hawai‘i, created the first television show directed by and starring Native Hawaiians, and continues to produce nationally syndicated programming with her PBS food and travel series Family Ingredients. Connie M. Florez helmed the Rainbow LGBT Film Festival and produces high profile LGBT films like PBS’ Kumu Hina.

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Academy of Creative Media professor Anne Misawa is a Sundance Film Festival alum and working Director of Photography (Margarita with a Straw) and Producer (2017 HIFF closing night film Go for Broke). Director/producer Ciara Leina‘ala Lacy’s Out of State documentary about Hawaiian inmates in an Arizona prison practicing traditional Hawaiian hula and chant sold out six screenings at HIFF last year. The film is slated for a national PBS broadcast in 2019. Lacy is in the trenches of filmmaking, working in television to earn a living while developing a powerful original voice in independent film.

“This kind of field work gives me more confidence in the road ahead,” says Lacy. “It’s undeniable that our world benefits by normalizing who tells stories and the platforms they are given. I’m optimistic that the tide is turning, and grateful for opportunities like this that help change the narrative along the way.”

For fans of Hawai‘i film and television the Reel Wahine 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 also directed three of the six films, are doing their part to employ more women in key crew positions; including director of photography Valerie Narte and directors Heather Haunani Giugni, Leah Kihara and Laurie Sumiye. Additionally, two of the films were edited by then seventeen-year-old Ginger Morris, a graduate of the Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking Reel Camps for Girls.

“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 funding from The Honolulu Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and is a Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking production. Season two of Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i is currently in pre-production and has received a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts grant. Thompson and Zambonelli are raising matching funds for the grant and plan to begin filming season two in early 2019.

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