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Coming Full Circle: Reflecting on the Premiere of Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i Season 3

While the pandemic has taken a lot away from us, the one thing that it didn’t is creativity.

This was one of the many thoughts that were running through my mind — and still is — as I process having watched the world premiere of Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi Season 3 in person and on the big screen a month ago.

After months of planning, filming and editing, six new films that showcased six amazing and talented wāhine filmmakers were shared for the first time ever as part of the 41st Hawaii International Film Festival on November 7, 2021.

(from right to left: Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Zoe Eisenberg, Meleanna Meyer, Shirley Thompson, Heather Giugni, Vera Zambonelli, and Anne Misawa).

The screening was held at the newly renovated Kahala Consolidated Theaters, and it was my first time in a movie theater since the pandemic started nearly two years ago.

As a movie lover, not being able to go to the theater to watch films was one of the things I missed the most — especially since it had become a habit of mine in college to watch movies on the big screen whenever I could. It had always been an easy trip since the closest AMC theater was only a 5-minute walk from my campus in Boston.

So to describe in one word what it was like watching Reel Wahine in theaters — it was truly surreal.

Writing this post now, it honestly still feels like a dream.

I had forgotten the feeling of being in a room with mostly strangers watching a film as part of shared experience. Hearing the reactions, laughter, applause, and a few sniffles as I’m sure some tried to fight back tears as we all looked up at the screen and witnessed art and the artists.

Going back to the beginning of the year when Vera first brought me on to the team to help out with the communications of Reel Wahine, I was really only writing things based on what people were telling me about the films. Because of COVID and timing, I didn’t have a chance to actually see the process, I was merely just hearing about it. So to actually see it come to life and see the finished product was truly awe-inspiring.

Seeing the stories of the renowned wahine filmmakers talk about their lives, their passion, and the stories they work to share with the world was absolutely gratifying. In some ways, it also lit a fire under me to start getting to work on pursuing my own dreams and goals.

Furthermore, even though these films were made during a pandemic, at some point while watching I honestly had forgotten this fact. By this I mean that it didn’t seem like COVID had stopped anyone from telling these stories — and it didn’t.

Vera, Shirley, the directors, interns and all wahine crewmembers still made these six films despite COVID changing safety rules and limiting the number of people who could be on set.

While the circumstances in which these films were made were not anything like pre-pandemic times, I personally don’t think it showed on screen.

Pandemic or not, the execution was spot on and they were all great films.

I truly wonder if you were to show these films alongside films that were made before the pandemic, if anyone could decipher when each was made — I personally don’t think one would be able to tell the difference. And I think this speaks volumes as to the care, the skill and the heart that was put into Season 3 of Reel Wahine.

Having shared all these thoughts, I think one of the moments that will truly stick with me for a long time is seeing all the cast and crew stand in front of the theater after all of the films were screened.

Seeing the mix of legendary wahine filmmakers alongside up-and-coming filmmakers made me feel so proud to be a part of this project and just be in the presence of brilliance.

I hate to throw out cliches, but if anyone ever wondered what representation looks like and what it feels like to be seen, it was truly that moment.

In an industry that is dominated by males, especially white men, what stood before me was empowerment.

It sparked hope in the future of wahine in film as we continue to rise, take up space, and let our stories be heard.


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