Producer and director, Marlene Booth, recaps her experience with the Kū Kanaka premiere at the 2016 Hawaiʻi International Film Festival.
I always hoped my PIC funded film, Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall, would have its film festival premiere at HIFF.
The late Kanalu Young, the subject of the film and the person with whom I co-produced the PIC-funded film Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i, loved his family, his Kapahulu neighbors, his Native Hawaiian students, and local folks. All those groups, led by Kanalu’s 91-year-old mother seated front-row, joined together to celebrate his life and his work at the documentary film’s HIFF premiere.
Kū Kanaka tells Kanalu’s story – how a diving accident at age 15 left him quadriplegic and defiant and how he transformed that defiance, ultimately, into fighting for his rights as a Native Hawaiian person. He earned a PhD, learned Hawaiian language, uncovered new sources of Hawaiian history, got arrested at an ‘Iolani Palace demonstration, and chanted and spoke out for the restoration of Hawaiian rights.
A sell-out crowd screened the film at the Dole Cannery Theatre, and when the lights came up, they reacted with loud applause and, many, with tears. One audience member who works for the state of Hawai‘i told me after the film, “every school child in Hawaiʻi needs to see this film.”
Another emailed me later and wrote, “The film was poignant and powerful. I had never heard of Kanalu Young, but through the film, I felt like I actually knew him in real life. I gained new insight into Hawaiians’ feelings of disenfranchisement.”
Finally, a third person emailed and wrote, “I am literally sitting outside of theater #8 at Dole Cannery gathering myself after the heartwarming film. I was moved so deeply.”
Kanalu had a soft spot in his heart for PIC which nurtured him as a teller of Hawai‘i’s stories on film.
Ever the local boy, he would have loved the HIFF premiere.