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5 Questions For Native Hawaiian Filmmaker ‘Aina Paikai

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ʻĀina Paikai and creative advisor Guinevere Turner at the 2013 Native Lab.

Nate von Zumwalt

This week, four filmmaking fellows take their short film projects to the homelands of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico to participate in an intensive four-day workshop at the 2013 Native Lab. ʻĀina Paikai, a Native Hawaiian filmmaker from Oahu, is attending with his documentary short film project Da Frog. Paikai took a moment to share insights on his homeland’s burgeoning film culture, the value heritage plays in storytelling, and the catalysts that compel him to create.


1. Can you shed some light on your project, Da Frog, and the significance of this particular story?

Da Frog is a story based on the humble beginnings of a Hawaiian icon by the name of George Jarrett Helm Jr. Helm was an extremely talented musician that devoted his life to fighting for native rights during the 1970s. He is an honored figure and one of the last true leaders in the Hawaiian community with a story that should not be forgotten.

2. How would you define the current state of the Hawaiian film industry?

I would say it’s at the tipping point. Film is by no means new to the islands. Numerous documentaries have captured and preserved traditions that were nearly lost. Since, lots of opportunities to learn on large sets have been available with the consistent flock of big budget productions to the islands. So now, with old and new knowledge at their fingertips, there are many talented filmmakers in Hawai‘i ready and on the verge of expanding their work internationally.

3. Is there a film or director that you identify as having spurred your interest in film?

Maori (Indigenous Polynesians of New Zeland) filmmaker Merata Mita was a large influence in my life, mentoring me in college at the University of Hawai‘i. Her unwavering drive to decolonize the screen set a precedent for me and allows me to focus on my purpose, which is to perpetuate the lifestyle of my people.

4. How has your Native Hawaiian culture ignited your desire to tell stories through film?

My desire to tell stories through film is actually driven from language. ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian language, is rarely heard in its motherland and is completely absent when it comes to major motion pictures made in the islands. It’s my mission to encourage more films made in the mother tongue.

5. How do you hope to refine your craft during your time at the Native Lab?

I hope that the Native Lab will help me grow as a writer, specifically with transitioning from shorts to feature length screenplays as well as build working relationships with my fellow cohort members and Lab mentors.


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