Kiwi-Fijian director Toa Fraser’s second feature premiered at the Toronto Film Festival with a big cast, strong audience reception and generally positive reviews.
Fraser’s sophomore effort is located far from the South Pacific, where his first feature, No. 2 (released overseas as Naming Number Two), dealt with Pacific immigrants in contemporary urban Auckland.
Dean Spanley is a period piece based on the novel My Talks With Dean Spanley by Lord Dunsany. Set in Edwardian England, the film stars Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown and Peter O’Toole.
Paramount acquired Australian and NZ distribution rights.
Rave reviews for Fijian director’s second film
Kiwi-Fijian director Toa Fraser’s latest film ‘Dean Spanley’ has premiered to a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival.
New Zealand director Toa Fraser’s Dean Spanley overcomes an uncertain and sketchy opening section to register as a moving and visually wondrous evocation of magic and imagination.
It’s simple and lollipop sweet, but it’s not an Oscar-caliber movie and it’s unlikely to survive the long knives of those sour critics who save up their bloodlust for flicks like this.
A new movie about Hawai’i’s Princess Ka’iulani has become a flashpoint for Hawaiian historical, political and cultural grievances.
The Princess, who died young after her kingdom was overthrown by the United States in 1893, is the subject of a low budget independent feature currently in post-production.
Accusations of historical inaccuracies and cultural insensitivity have dogged the project since casting was announced in 2007. Controversy has flared over a range of issues: casting a non-Hawaiian actor in the lead role, filming at ‘Iolani Palace, problematic titles, and criticisms about an outsider’s interpretation of a cherished Hawaiian story.
Crown Princess Victoria Ka’iulani Cleghorn (1875-1899) was the daughter of Princess Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn, Scottish Governor of Oahu, and the niece of monarchs King David Kalakaua and Queen Lydia Lili’uokalani. She was heir to the Hawaiian throne, which was illegally overthrown by Americans while she was overseas at school in England. Ka’iulani returned to Hawaii and died of illness at age 23.
The $9 million dollar film is being made by first-time writer/director Marc Forby, British producer of low budget genre horror and thriller flicks including 29 Palms and Prom Night, the 2007 remake of the 80s teen slasher film. The project’s backer is London-based production company Matador Pictures, which produced the Irish Civil War film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, winner of the 2007 Cannes Palme D’Or.
Forby decided to make his directorial debut with Ka’iulani’s story after seeing a portrait of the Princess at ‘Iolani Palace, followed by two years of research in Hawai’i and England.
The lead role will be shared by two actors. First-time Hawaiian student Kaimana Pa’aluhi plays the adolescent princess; 18 year-old Q’orianka Quilcher takes over as the older Ka’iulani. Quilcher gained attention as Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s 2005 feature The New World, with Colin Farrell as English explorer John Smith. Her father is native Quechua from Peru, and her mother is Swiss.
The director jumped into the debate about casting a non-Hawaiian actor in the lead role, detailing his decision on the blog Newspaper Rock: Where Native America meets pop culture. Responding to a post titled “Pocahontas the Hawaiian princess,” Forby writes: “We searched for a Hawaiian actress for two years … In the end, Q’orianka got the role because of her acting ability. We’d rather people walk out of the theatre educated about the overthrow than saying ‘what a terrible actress’.”
Hawaiian musician Palani Vaughn turned down the role of King Kalakaua after rejecting a script he said was marred with cultural and historical inaccuracies, including behavior “unbefitting a princess” such as mouthing off at the king and getting into a violent altercation with her father. “A non-Hawaiian is trying to interpret in an un-Hawaiian way what he is supposing has happened,” said Vaughn, according to the Honolulu Advertiser.
The film’s original title, Barbarian Princess, was intended as an ironic nod to newspaper commentary of the era. After complaints from Hawaiians sensitive about being characterized as uncivilized, producers changed the title to The Last Princess, which was also criticized by Hawaiians who say the real “last princess” is Abigail Kawananakoa, living heir to the Hawaiian throne.
Also problematic is a Hollywood-style love interest. The script beefs up a purported romance with Clive Davies, son of Ka’iulani’s guardian Theo Davies, former British ambassador to Hawai’i. “The young Princess must choose between her true love and the responsibility that comes with her title,” says the Matador Pictures website – a scenario that makes some Hawaiians shudder. “The old ‘dark exotic woman falling in love with the rugged white man’ plot is not only insulting to me as a Hawaiian, but is an over done Disney story, not worthy of our Princess,” wrote Richard Kapuaala of Hayward, CA, commenting on a Star Bulletin article.
Early versions of the script included a sex scene, though there is no evidence that Princess – as both high-born ali’i and Victorian-era Christian – consorted with commoners or relinquished her virginity. Filmmakers say the offending scene was cut after complaints.
Filming on Oahu in March met with anger from several Hawaii state senators, who say the project should not receive state tax credits. Senator Clayton Hee wrote to the state film commission complaining about the “inaccurate and insensitive depiction, an extension of the treatment of others towards the host culture.” Hawai’i Film Commissioner Donne Dawson countered that she was impressed with Forby’s research and commitment to the project, and his use of Hawaiian language and culture consultants.
Concerns about the director’s credentials and budget also led to complaints about the “grade-C movie” with a $9 million budget, “chump change by Hollywood standards,” according to one newspaper commentary.
The film has sparked a flurry of online commentary, raising issues from the overthrow to racism, blood quantum and whether non-Hawaiians should be able to make movies about Hawaiian subjects. More than 200 comments were posted at Topix under the title Princess Ka’iulani film outrages some Hawaiians.
“When someone else tells OUR STORIES they can’t possibly ever really know where we are coming from,” moaned Sick & Tired in Kailua. “As far as the girl not being Hawaiian – well, how many Hawaiian girls tried out for the part? Since when does race supersede talent?” chimed in Kmakai of Santa Ana, CA.
Filmmaker Forby and his producer wife Leilani Estioko Forby, who grew up in Hawai’i, have appealed for a fair hearing. “We are all – the actors, the producers, the crew, everybody – working so hard to make this a good film for Hawaii,” she said on local channel KGMB.
The film is slated for release in 2009.
Filming begins on movie about Princess Kaiulani
Princess Ka’iulani film outrages some Hawaiians
Princess Ka’iulani Film Causing Stir
Hawai’i Film Blog
Senators seek overthrow of ‘Princess’ film tax help
Honolulu Star Bulletin
Athlete as Art
Number one at the PI box office this week: shot putter Valerie Vili winning Olympic gold in Beijing.
Vili becomes the first New Zealand-born Pacific Islander to win an Olympic gold medal with a throw of 20.56 meters in the women’s shot put.
The 23 year-old world champion is the daughter of a Tongan mother and a British father.
Big waves, quick boards, high stakes and culture clash stoke tensions in a new feature film documenting an explosive era in Hawaiian surfing history.
Bustin Down the Door chronicles the birth of pro surfing in the 1970s, which spawned a billion-dollar surf industry and millionaire champions. It’s the second surf doc of 2008 set on Oahu’s North Shore, a timely prequel to Dana Brown’s Highwater filmed 30 years later at the 2005 Triple Crown.
Australian and South African surfers stormed the North Shore in 1974, bursting in the back door at Pipeline, ripping the hallowed waves of Waimea, busting titles, boasting, bragging, and deeply offending the locals.
As told by the men who lived it, the feud between colonizing Aussies and insulted Hawaiians erupted into violence. Australians surfers Rabbit Bartholomew and Ian Cairns cowered in a hotel room with baseball bats and shotguns after being assaulted and threatened.
Into the breach stepped Eddie Aikau, legendary Hawaiian waterman, North Shore lifeguard and champion surfer, whose courage is immortalized in three words: “Eddie would go”. He delivered the frightened surfers to hui ho’oponopono, a community tribunal and peacemaking session. Angry Hawaiians gave a history lesson; chastened Aussies listened and apologized. Respect was restored and pro surfing was born.
Director Jeremy Grosch fearlessly explores the collision of ambitious testosterone with tradition and place, weaving exquisite period film with emotional interviews from the vets, still shredding in their 50s.
North Shore locals Eddie Rothman, Fred Hemmings, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Jeff Rakman and Eddie’s brother Clyde Aikau provide local perspective on the little-known story.
Surf legend Shaun Tomson co-produces. And rips.
… reveal(s) the tense, ugly side of the sport’s cultural subcurrents to a degree never before described in a surf pic.
… an eyeful of audacious beachfront fashion. It reeks of the Ford era, but is somehow terribly … now.
Nesian Mystik breaks it down
Nesian Mystik’s new single breaks down urban Aotearoa Polynesian culture for its growing global audience.
Rapper Sabre, aka Feleti Strickson-Pua, tells Spasifik Magazine that when traveling overseas they found fans didn’t know much about the band’s culture, “so it’s going back to the basics of who we are.”
Lyrics celebrate their Auckland roots in Samoan, Tongan, Aitutaki (Cook Islands) and Maori cultures, where you can “spot the Polys from a mile away” in their white-on-white sneeks, aloha shirts, socks with jandals and “that greenstone around your neck”.
Luke Sharp is the video director. “We asked him for a video that was alive, bright and vibrant … that people watching and listening could relate to,” says Sabre. “For example, palagis might not understand some of our lyrics talking about island food,” in their paean to fried corned beef, two minute noodles, one-dollar chips and a free cuppa tea.
Nesian 101 is the first single from their forthcoming album Elevator Musiq due out soon.
The new Pacific Islands Film Festival debuts in Honolulu with a collection of features, docs and shorts from Aotearoa, Australia, Majuro, Tuvalu, Samoa/Los Angeles and Hawaii.
The Marshall Islands’ first dramatic feature film has its international premier at the Honolulu Design Center on 12 July 08. Morning Comes So Soon features local folks in a teen love story dealing with racism and suicide.
The festival also screens two New Zealand features: Toa Fraser’s Naming No. 2, starring Ruby Dee as a Fijian matriarch, and Samoan Wedding featuring Aotearoa’s zany Naked Samoans comedy team.
Documentaries deal with Samoan gangs in urban America, tribalism in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, effects of global warming on Tuvalu, Hawaiian culture and Polynesian DNA origins, plus biographical films about Samoan writer Albert Wendt and Maori musician/filmmaker Moana Maniapoto’s battle over the right to use her own name.
Keynote address is by the godmother of Pacific film Merata Mita (Patu, Mauri) of University of Hawaii’s Academy of Creative Media. Celebrity night features Pacific film icon Cliff Curtis (Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider).
The festival is produced by the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, California.
As Seen on Screen
Pacific Islands Film Festival brings big attention to little-known issues
Romeo & Juliet on Majuro
A love story about a Marshallese boy and a Chinese girl is the first feature film from the Marshall Islands.
Morning Comes So Soon was made by a pair of American volunteer high school teachers at Majuro’s Catholic Assumption High School, working with a local peer education group, with a grant from UNESCO.
The directors, Aaron Condon and Mike Cruz, cast local people in the film about teens grappling with racism and suicide on the small central Pacific atoll. The film stars high school seniors Ting Yu Lin and James Bing III.
The movie has been a huge hit in Majuro where thousands of Marshallese packed the local cinema with multiple showings daily during May.
The film deals with social pressures resulting from Chinese immigration to Majuro in late 1990s.
Morning Comes So Soon has its international premier at the first Pacific Islands Film Festival at Honolulu’s Design Center on 12 July 08, and is available on DVD via mail order.
Buy the DVD at Bikini Atoll Online Store
Honolulu Advertiser says:
… “Morning Comes So Soon” looms as the fledgling festival’s most important selection, said the man who chose them, Vilsoni Hereniko. It offers a perspective of the Pacific that has never been explored before on the screen.
“This is the first feature film from the Marshall Islands that uses Marshallese in the lead roles … This allows people from within the culture and the society to tell their own stories and to kind of examine themselves in a way that is, I think, very delicate … There is no film that I know of that focuses on racial issues between Pacific Islanders and Asians,” said Hereniko, a filmmaker and professor at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies.”
Sima Urale’s first feature premiers at NZ International Film Festival
Apron Strings is a parallel story of two families from two cultures, Pakeha (New Zealand/European) and East Indian, set in suburban New Zealand.
Urale is best known for her acclaimed short films O Tamaiti, Still Life and Coffee & Allah, which screened at film festivals around the world.
The film explores the relationships between mothers and their fatherless sons, through the metaphor of food.
“Apron Strings isn’t simply a story about women,” says Urale. “It’s about their sons and the next generation; the changing face of New Zealand … and the age-old conflict between traditional and modern… which also reminds us we have more in common with each other across cultures than we think.”
Apron Strings stars British-Indian actress Laila Rouass (Footballers Wives) with Scott Wills (Perfect Creature, Stickmen), Jennifer Ludlum and Nathan Whittaker.
The film is produced by Rachel Gardner of Maxim Films and was written by Dianne Taylor and Shuchi Kothari. The cinematographer is Rewa Harre.
Hawai’i Surf Movie Premier
Shot at the 2005 Triple Crown over 55 days , Highwater follows the men and women wave warriors at Pipeline and Waimea. Hawai’i surfers include Kalani Chapman, Carissa Moore, Poncho Sulllivan, Sunny Garcia, Rochelle Ballard and wunderkind John John Florence, at 13 the youngest finalist ever in the premier big wave series.
Brown premiered his nearly finished film (missing final audio mix, color correction and credits, with narration recorded that morning) to an appreciative crowd under the stars in the Ford Amphitheater at Los Angeles Film Festival 22 May 08.
The Brown dynasty was out in force with pioneer filmmaker dad Bruce Brown (Endless Summer) and grandchildren, who crewed for son Dana on the film.
FIFO wants films
Festival Internationale du Film Documentaire Oceanien
6th Pacific International Documentary Film Festival
27 Jan – 1 Feb 09
Deadline: 1 Oct 08
Documentaries about the Pacific region, made during the past three years, are eligible. Films compete for cash prizes, including Jury Grand Prize and Audience Prize.
2008 winners are: Horo’a, by Jacques Navarro-Novira (French Polynesia); Sacred Ground by Kim Mavromatis, documenting a fight to save Aboriginal burial grounds (Australia): Ben Lewis’s Blowing Up Paradise about French nuclear testing in the Pacific (Britain); My Brother Vinnie, Steven McGregor’s portrait of actor Aaron Pedersen’s bond with his intellectually disabled brother (Australia); The Latest Australian Trackers by Eric Ellena (France); and Peta Carey’s Lifting of the Makutu, about a family grappling with a rare genetic disorder (New Zealand).
Pierre Ollivier, FIFO Director