Aleta welcomes Amber McClure to discuss her short documentary on Ann Marie Kirk part of Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi season 4, which was screened at the 43rd Hawaiʻi International Film Festival (HIFF). This episode is part of our weekly series of WĀHINE DIRECTORS @ HIFF 43 - a series of interviews that are a great opportunity to learn more about the directors' films that were screened at HIFF and their creative process. Also available on our podcast.
AMC: My name is Amber McClure, and I was the director of the Reel Wāhine episode about Ann Marie Kirk.
AH: what was your film about?
AMC: I only knew Ann Marie professionally and not very well before we met for the first time for our pre-interview. And as soon as we met we knew we really hit it off. And I tried to convey to her my sincerity and my interest in her, and I wanted to help her tell her story, knowing that my own experience and what I bring to the story would color and shape what what eventually would be produced. But I wanted to have her feel that I was listening and that I would be including the points that were really important to her. How do you go from meeting this person knowing, okay, I'm going to make something about her and her career to figuring out exactly what the arc of those 8 minutes would be like.
AH: What was that process for you?
AMC: When I met with an interview, I tried to get a sense of who she was historically. So I asked her about what was her early interest in film, what was what led her to the topics that she likes to cover in her films. And for Ann Marie, she is a prolific filmmaker, but she's also a community activist. So very early on, I faced challenges of trying to figure out how much can I include of her, her life outside of filmmaking, but also realizing that the reason for telling the story was to focus on her as a filmmaker. We wanted to film Ann Marie in places that were of significance to her, and that we also wanted her to be outside because so much of her work is in the community and focusing on specific places. So we chose the Hāwea Heiau.
During the interview, she talked about her connection to āina, her connection to kapuna. And I knew that those elements were very important to her, and I knew that those elements would make their way into the story. So after filming for over 2 hours at that location and then filming again at the Ka Iwi coastline, I had way more footage that I could use for an eight minute film. Also knowing that I needed to incorporate some of Ann Marie's work into the film. That left me with a very, very short amount of time to work with. So what became evident is that Ann Marie's work is very personal and intimate. And two of the films that really spoke to me were Happy Birthday Tūtū Ruth, which is a documentary about a Hawaiian woman on the Big Island and Homealani, which is a filmed documentary film Ann Marie made about her grandfather, who was a Hawaiian man.
It became clear to me that these are the stories of these two individuals were the ones that spoke to me the most, and they also spoke to Ann Marie and her feelings the most about Hawaiian history, Hawaiian activism, and possibly the way that they showcased her philosophy about storytelling.
AH: How did you approach the interviews?
AMC: For the interviews, I tried to go in with an idea of the themes. And so I want to make sure that we touch upon specific themes. And because Ann Marie is such a great narrator, I knew that if I just gave her a simple prompt, she could she could go into great detail.
The film, starts with Ann Marie opening the gate and she's holding the keys to this this protected area. So just by Ann Marie walking up with the keys, you immediately get the sense that, this person is the holder of the knowledge. She's the person in charge. And she would say that she shares that responsibility with many people. But she is one of the protectors of this area. And so by beginning the film with Ann Marie and the keys, and then she offers an oli to how they are the protected area. You immediately get the sense that this is a place that she's connected to. And then the subsequent interview shows her sitting in front of a Hale that was constructed during the beginning of COVID. And so you immediately see this Hale and behind the Hale is a high rise. And so you're curious, what in the world is this place?
It's it's a juxtaposition between nature and modernity. What is her connection to the place? And she begins to talk about the contrast between Hawaiʻi Kai and Maunalua. So to me, the hale and the high rise are the visual representations of this Maunalua, the place where you are, the development name. And then from there we go down to the coastline and Ann Marie is walking along the coastline. And it was a very blustery day. The wind is blowing her hair horizontal at some points. And she talks about the voices of kapuna are like voices on her radio. You just have to turn up the volume, but they're always speaking. So I just found these waves of these these great soundbites that she gave to try to connect her to a place.
I felt like if I could emphasize visually and through some of her words, I could emphasize just how connected she is to a place. And that could speak volumes more than listing all of her accomplishments, listing all the court battles that she's been part of, all the community groups she's part of. So I had to be creative within a short amount of time.
AH: what did you want your audience to walk away with? And, you know, once you identify that, how how were you planning on execute doing that?
AMC: I think like quite a few filmmakers, I struggle with this uncertainty about whether what I find to be interesting will be interesting to a wider audience and I've heard it multiple times throughout my life the same advice. That's along the lines of if you're interested in it, there will be someone else out there interested in it and Ann Marie is so interesting and so I thought if I emphasize what I connect with with her, there will be people out there who also connect with that. And so I tried to focus on what I found to be the most compelling about what she shared, but also incorporating portions of her film that also really spoke to me.
So the first step was for me to accept that this film is my telling of Ann Marie Kirk. I didn't try to hide in any way that it was me putting together the story. So certain things that really spoke to me and really deeply moved me about Ann Marie story was when she shared that she was influenced by and she Ruth's embracing of her multiethnic heritage. So Tūtū Ruth was half Hawaiian, half Japanese, and she was very proud of being Japanese and proud of being Hawaiian. They weren't two different things that she tried to hide or wasn't necessarily more one than the other. And for Ann Marie, that was really important for her and her understanding of herself, not just as a filmmaker, but as a human. And when Ann Marie shared that story, I also connected with it because I am also multiracial and half Japanese, Scottish, Irish primarily. And hearing Ann Marie talk about her process of accepting herself and understanding more about herself, that was also reassuring and inspiring to me.
AH: there's so many ways to go about telling a portion of someone's life. And some people like to be very fly on the wall and let me see what happens. And some people like to be like, okay, where where do I connect to this person and how can I pull that out of them? And it sounds like you're more in the second boat and being like, Well, documentary isn't really ever fully objective anyway, so let me let me see what I personally connect to. Is that right?
AMC: Yes, I definitely connect to the second part of it. I, I don't necessarily think we should all be in the story. The film that I made prior to the Ann Marie story is a film I made about me and my mother. It's called Finding Dohi. I finished it in 2020 and initially I had only planned on my mom being in the film, but I quickly realized I had to be in it also and it made me uncomfortable. But now when I watch the film, I don't see that I could have done it any other way because our relationship is a big part of the story. And so I think it's about recognizing when you should add your self in and when you shouldn't. Some people might not like the way you put the story together and that is fine. You will never please everyone and that's totally fine. I'm at that age now where I fully accept that and embrace that and think it's important to embrace that. I have some hesitation about being partnered with a Hawaiian filmmaker because I'm not Hawaiian, and so from the beginning I wanted Ann Marie to understand where I was coming from.
And I think she felt my sincerity and my desire to get it right as best I could. We had a lot of conversations about what I wanted to share. We had discussions about when we were finished with the interviews, if she felt comfortable, what she had shared, if she wanted to make any addendums or cut anything out. I offer also offered her the opportunity to watch the film and share any comments or feedback or changes with me before finishing. So I try to include her at every step of the way because ultimately this project was meant to be a celebration of wahine in film and both in front of and behind the camera. And I feel so lucky that she was completely on board for all of that. You know, not to speak for Lee-Won and Shaneika, but I think we all the crew on the film, we all had an incredible experience working with Ann Marie and learning from her.
AH: what was maybe the biggest lesson that you took from this as a director? Like something you're going to carry on with you to your other projects, something you learned?
AMC: Working on this project was was a huge boost for me in many different ways. It connected many different aspects of my life that are happening at the same time and being able to connect with Ann Marie, who is a filmmaker and individual who I look up to very highly, was really, really special. And I know that I will take that relationship and the experience with me as I continue. I hope that this leads to more opportunities to direct or consult or mentor or support other people with their stories and the sharing of their stories.
I am incredibly honored to have had the opportunity. I feel like it boosted my self-esteem when it comes to directing and having the confidence to pull off a commissioned project and submit a final project that the producers were pleased with. We had a time constraints, but really we were encouraged to be as creative as possible and for someone like me who really enjoys guidelines and instruction rubrics, that was daunting to me to have someone say, make whatever it feels right. But in the end, am so grateful for that. Because although I made my documentary, it follows a pretty traditional format. I like to think that the intention that went into it was something that you don't see all the time, and I hope that the final product shows the intention that went into it, and I'm very pleased it turned out.
Ann Marie Nālani Kirk is an award-winning filmmaker from Maunalua, Oʻahu.Her recent films include: Kai Piha: Nā Loko Iʻa about traditional Hawaiian fishponds, Kai Piha: Kaʻahele Ma Waikiki about the history of traditional Hawaiian surfing in Waikiki and other films include The Hawaiian Room about the legendary Hawaiian dancers and entertainers who Hawaiian Room in the Lexington Hotel, Homealani about her grandfather Oliver H. Kupau, and Happy Birthday, Tūtū Ruth about kupuna Ruth Kaholoaʻa from Waipiʻo, Hawaiʻi.Ann Marie is also the creator of maunalua.net, a cultural website sharing the moʻolelo of Maunalua, Oʻahu.
Amber McClure’s diverse background in documentary production, education, and advocacy reflects her passion for storytelling and cultural exploration. Currently, she holds the position of Director of Programs at Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), a member of the National Multicultural Alliance. Her documentary short film Finding Dohi (2020) screened at numerous film festivals worldwide, including the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and Seattle Asian American Film Festival. Currently pursuing a PhD in American Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, she is dedicated to furthering her knowledge and professional development.
Aleta Hammerich is a local filmmaker and graduate of UH Mānoa School of Cinematic Arts with experience in directing, cinematography, and editing. She has worked on projects such as Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi (2021), The ‘Ilima Lady (2023), and Homestead (2023). Aleta is passionate about using filmmaking as a platform to share women’s and LGBTQIA+ stories.