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Wāhine Directors @HIFF43: Meleanna Aluli Meyer

Aleta welcomes Meleanna Aluli Meyer to discuss her short documentary on Sancia Miala Shiba Nash 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.

MAM: Aloha kākou. My name is Maleanna Aluli Meyer. I've had the privilege of being the director and writer Reel Wāhine pieces on extraordinary filmmakers who happen to be women. The young woman I worked with, her name is Sancia Miala Shiba  Nash, and I just want to say it was a privilege.

AH: Tell us a little bit about your episode. Who is she? And like, what topics do you cover? 

MAM: Okay, so she is an up and coming, not really up. I mean, as incoming as in like, my God, she's amazing. She is a young woman, a young filmmaker and creative who has done work and has gone to film school and has amazing stories to share. And so I love this reel women in film series because it highlights a generational opportunity for young and old alike to be sharing and in the same space.She is a local girl born and raised from Maui, which is very significant at this moment in time for many reasons. One obviously being the Lahaina’s fire. She's a very sensitive, deeply committed artist, creative filmmaker in our community. So she is doing work for me that is really intersectional and a critique on much of what's gone on in the past. And she is also, I consider her like even a little bit of a renegade in the sense that she's got her own mind and her own orientation to how she sees film and it's not just film, it's how it interacts with or film interacts or into places or interfaces with other media and stuff. And her commitment to Hawaiʻi and to community is actually what propelled or compelled me to want to get to know her better. And she is also perhaps even part of my extended family. So I am getting to know her on a creative level, but also on a personal level. And I really respect her as a filmmaker, given what she wants to do and how she's doing it. So I, I just respect her as an artist first and filmmaker. Coincidentally, I love film myself! 

AH: So what was it like, where do you go from there? How do you get to the point where you're like, okay, here's the story, here's the tension.

MAM: I think the story always evolves and presents itself, especially if you have a chance to interview, to listen, to listen, to listen and then life presents itself. And in terms of who you're who you're interviewing. So there was a lot of that initially. And from those interviews, a story appears and it's not like you have to go hunting for it so much as it wants to present itself. I think that's what's exciting about film. You can go in with ideas, but you best be flexible, because what I experienced was a young woman who is compelled to do her work because given her life story and given, you know, circumstance, things that have happened in her life that I can relate to on some level, you know, loss and how we make we make our own lives, you know, in a way that we want to not only be of service, but have a voice. So she was and I know all of the others, too. So it would have been a privilege to have worked on any of the other pieces as well. But I just had a keen interest in getting to know this young filmmaker. So that's kind of wonderful.

AH: What did you hope the audience walks away with after they watch this episode?

MAM: I hope they come away with the attitude or the opportunity in their own field to think, my, my story is valuable. I know my voice matters and I can be young. I mean, it's great. Good fortune. That sounds like you got to go to film school because I did not. But as a creative, I did get a degree in photography, which isn't so far from filmmaking, just moving images. I'm just kidding about that. But I just want the viewer to go away with the attitude or come away with the attitude that anything is possible. If you have a passion for something, if you feel a purpose behind your work, because that's what I feel in terms of Sancia, what she's been able to to present, to work on, to create. And I see an amazing future of work for her and it's a privilege to have gotten to know her. So I want people to have felt that little sense of, I think I know a bit more about this person because those things are really important.

AH: You mentioned earlier that the story presented so I don't have to hunt for it. Do you have any advice for people who are making documentaries and are going into these interviews like, okay, I have this really cool person. Yeah, how about how I get the story to present itself?

MAM: That's a good question. And the question for me then is to say, go up and go into anything like that with an open mind and listen clearly to things that you were interviewee is sharing and understand too, that often stories are not what we think them to be, but they're little kernels of things that we resonate with that we want to know more about. Not only them, the interviewee, but also about ourselves. So it's actually a very dynamic process when you're interviewing, and I've done a ton of work in the last 35 years of interviewing and not only filming, but just straight out interviews in many different contexts. So I am keen to find out about that person's orientation versus my orientation as a filmmaker. So it's very easy to get caught up and say, okay, I, you know, I have an orientation to life like this and I'd like to find people who are going to either support that or echo that or whatever, when in fact, I'm I feel like I'm a little bit of a treasure hunter, you know, where I get to say, wow, you know, I didn't know that about this person, how it is that, you know, events really shape her life or his life and how can I better, you know, dig deeper to find the resonance of what that means? Because it isn't through just those joyful moments. It's actually through the pain and the loss and other things that really I think we all need to share with one another. So we're able to uplift and honor because each of us have stories to tell. I think that's really an exciting thing for me to not only honor and observe, but to celebrate, because that's what I got to do. I got to celebrate this young woman's work, accomplishments, and her orientation to things. And for me, it was a great learning experience. 

AH: Well, what do you feel like you learned?

MAM: You all now have so many more tools and then I had the first piece I ever did, believe it or not, 91 was, you know, film analog where you cut the film and the stuff dropped on the floor. You had to pick it up. And I'm going, my God, you guys are all your little digital guru, digital magicians. And IT transcripts come out and this and that. I mean, the facility with which you work is extraordinary. It really is very quickening. In other words, you can do so much more in such a short amount of time. But it takes it takes also kilo. A person who really understands details about character or place or lighting or time. And there's so many other sensitivities that someone like me coming from my background brings to the conversation.So for me to be engaged and have a support group and this community of really dynamic, brilliant filmmakers who are women is fantastic. I never even thought of it. You know, 30 years ago when I started 35 years ago, there were only men I didn't know. I didn't know the difference.But I can tell you, I have learned so much not only from Sancia in terms of just her orientation as a woman of this time working, but also from the collective. It's just been incredible. It really has been very, very productive for me and very energizing. So I'm inclined to just want to do more, which is fantastic, you know?

AH: On that note, do you have any advice for filmmakers, especially female filmmakers right now we're maybe going into their first or second film and just starting out? 

MAM: You know, watch a lot of film, watch a lot of film, Find artists whose orientation to lighting, to set design to other things to that compels you, you know, stylistically or even esthetically, because that will inform your work. I think so often people do not take advantage of all the hoopla, all of your guys' media and things that you have at your fingertips. You really should because it will just make your filmmaking better, you know, and asking lots of questions and not being afraid to do something different because, you know, nobody needs to see yet another talking head, as a matter of fact. Film is about moving images. It's not about talking. It's actually about what people do. So for me, the work is much better If you're not telling me about something so much as you're showing me, because it's in the emotion of things, in the handling of the situation where you really see the medium come alive, you know, And that's what people need to do, is not worry about the form so much as the essence. I think that's I mean, the form is a piece of cake these days. Where is the essence of what you're wanting to share the message, particularly in these times? We're in dreadful, horrid times. So the messages have to be on point. They have to be about purpose and passion and service and the collective will. And then that's all you have to do.

AH: So given that is your philosophy. Yeah. How do you feel that you really use the visual language for the Sancia’s episode and how did you approach telling a story that I think most people would maybe make a very interview heavy through visuals? 

MAM: Fortunately for me, because she has a library of images and things from the films she's done before, that was great because then I got to choose certain things and it really augmented the sequences very nicely. And I worked with a colleague who's musically a genius as well. So very minimal sound in addition. But, you know, there were there major moments that she spoke of that I was able to attend to visually. And I am a visual person, not just a filmmaker, but I do paint, I do murals, I do other things that have a lot to do with telling a story without words. So for me, the visual is an ultimate tool that people really need to dig into and explore a lot more. And, you know, this was very straight forward. I mean, as far as I was concerned, it's just that. So I haven't had a chance to really dive into all of the other media things that you all have access to. But I didn't need to because the story and her words were so compelling. All I wanted to do was augment and support those words with the footage and the stories that she allowed me to use. So it ended up being really a privilege. And plus I had a great editor if I were to recommend anything to anyone. My friend Lisa Altieri is fabulous. So you want to work with an editor because you don't want to think you have to do everything because those are fresh eyes that come into the project. And I'm really keen to say, Please don't think you have to do everything because that's like a nightmare waiting to happen. Do what you do best and the rest of it form out and plead and beg your friends whatever you need to do so that you have your best ensemble group that you can work with. And then everything comes together swimmingly, not easily, but swimmingly. 

AH: How do you approach working with your DP and your editor? Like, are you hands off or do you have a very specific vision that you want them to follow?

MAM: Honestly, because I haven't done as much film as I'd like to, but I have worked with Lisa on three other pieces, so I have a sense about her and what she'll include or, and, but she always surprises me and we surprise each other. And then, you know, we clean up things. We discussed a lot. So I'm pretty hands on in that regard. But I'm not a person that, you know, is fixed on an idea per say. I am a person who loves to be a team player, a collaborator. But if I'm in charge, then I really want to be able to say, Hey, let's look at this again and can we? And the film is an incredibly complex, collaborative effort and I just love it. And it's very humbling because you have to learn a lot, not only about the medium and the person you're interviewing, but also about storytelling in general, because each piece is very different and it demands different things from a director producer. So that's the exciting part. There's always learning to do, you know, as I say, even at my age. But it makes me sound old, but I kind of am. But anyway, I know there's always yeah, always learning to do so. 

AH: Were there any struggles that you or had to overcome or any roadblocks in the edit or in filming and how did you overcome it?

MAM: Well, you know what? There are always things that you want to add, always pieces that you would have liked to have played with a little bit more to have utilized. And I can think of two or three things in this particular piece. But, you know, you just can't get fixated on every little detail, otherwise you'll never get the piece done. And the objective is to complete the work and move on. So and I and I give my dear friend Vera a lot of credit because she was very patient with me. And it's really helpful to have people who have your back, our understanding and can be part of a team because team work in film is absolutely essential. And if you think you can do it by yourself, good luck, because it's not the way the medium works, you know? And I wasn't trained to work in a team like that, but I sure do love it because it just makes everything that much more doable, actually. And you can say, Hey, you know, can you please help me work this little spot out? I am having problems and you are speaking to your editor and you trust your editor and are there more than one way to work a piece? Absolutely. 10,000. So then you just let you. It allows you to just say, okay, I can, I can change. I can let it go. I can allow something else to happen that could actually be better, you know, And you just can't be fixated if you are. Well, not me. And that makes it a lot easier because if I were like that, I drive myself crazy and I have a hard enough time and I drive myself crazy anyway.

AH: How do you identify what is like a nugget of gold versus something for you to let go of?

MAM: I'm not sure, nor do I have to be sure. So I just wanted to really honor her voice and her visions and her love for this place and speaking Japanese and speaking Hawaiian and speaking, you know, English. I mean, just that experience alone was heartening for me because I love languages.I think all of that is really important. It gives you other insights. That's just an example of one thing that was really remarkable because she wanted to share in those languages. That was a language she grew up with. Japanese, you know, English is, you know, the language of, you know, the default language. And then she's learning Hawaiian, as I am learning Hawaiian.So there's a lot of simpatico that I get to appreciate in someone younger than I am and someone who at that age is really just starting out and doing amazing things, amazing things. So it's really my privilege. Thank you. I love that. All right. 

AH:  Is there anything else that you're working on now or like what's next?

MAM: My goodness, I'm working on way too many things. I need to practice saying no. I'm working on a wonderful project with extraordinary people. It's called The Liliʻuokalani Project with Joel Moffett and Kikilani and others, and John Seymour. And it's really exciting because it's something I wanted to do and I have worked on for years. But then his work is the same name, so I've been able to just say, okay, let's just consolidate and let's work together and let's see if we can finish this piece. So that's going on. And another project called the 1898 Project, I'm not sure we'll do film, but I'm working with Tom Coffman on that and he was such a blessing in my life to teach me how to do things with the Mauna Kea piece that I did called Sacred Mountain, Sacred Conduct. So oddly, I'm getting back into film in a way that I never thought was going to happen.And but I'm loving it. So I just say, this is a time to tell our stories. This is a really important time that Hawaiʻi tells its stories, because I think we have an orientation to the world that is unique, that is generous, and that can share this notion of aloha and what the world really needs right now. You know, nonviolence, you know, attitudes of gratitude and grace.So I'm really grateful to do the work I do. Thank you!

Sancia Miala Shiba Nash is a filmmaker from Kīhei, Maui. Through time-based media, she works collaboratively to amplify intersectional stories of place. Her practice is guided by oral histories, archives, and acts of translation. Currently she is helping to catalog Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina’s moving image collection, as a project of Puʻuhonua Society. In 2020, Sancia cofounded kekahi wahi, a grassroots film initiative dedicated to documenting transformations across Hawaiʻi.

Meleanna Aluli Meyer is an avid creative in many media, life learner— and student of all things of culture and place. Mea Hawaiʻi, ʻike Hawaiʻi, moʻolelo Hawaiʻi; Material, wisdom traditions, stories and history, are passions. She is a filmmaker of necessity, as stories from community and family werenʻt much focused on or told in the 80s. She waded into filmmaking with Les Blank, creating the documentary Puamana (1991), ʻOnipaʻa (1996), Assisting David Kalama, Hoʻokuʻikahi- To Unify as One (1998), with her kumu John Keola Lake, Maunakea, Sacred Mountain, Sacred Conduct (2020) with Tom Coffman. Says Meyer about her work, “Voice matters- our unique stories and songs matter.” She is an educator and artist by training, whose love of all things Hawaiian keeps her grounded in Hawaiʻi nei.

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.


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