“You don’t find hula. Hula finds you,” said Hawaii filmmaker Keo Woolford, whose film, “The Haumana,” is finding enthusiastic audiences around the globe—including here on Hawaii Island, where it will screen at Big Island Film Festival at The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, from May 22 to 26.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Woolford. “And from people in the ‘Who’s Who’ in the Hawaiian community. It is humbling; it wasn’t really my intention.”
With Merrie Monarch-winning dancers and kumu in its film family, an Audience Award from Hawaii International Film Festival, and a soundtrack nominated for a Na Hoku Hanohano award, “The Haumana” is certainly gaining recognition on some of Hawaii’s most prestigious levels.
One of 48 official selections (including nine from Hawaii), “The Haumana,” which means “the student,” follows the journey of a touristy Polynesian show emcee who is called to take a very large step up and become kumu for a high school men’s halau. In doing so, he reconnects with hula and his cultural roots on a deeper level.
In some ways, the film’s story echoes that of its filmmaker. A self proclaimed “jock” at St. Louis High School, Woolford pursued a pop music career in Los Angeles, then traveled to London as an actor and serendipitously got the chance to replace Jason Scott Lee in “The King and I” at the Palladium. From there, he moved to New York and appeared off-Broadway in the one-man show “I Land.”
Woolford has been a member of Kumu Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei since 1999. From this foundation, he worked closely with Cazimero, along with Kumu Michael Lanakila Casupang and former Miss Aloha Hula, Kumu Maelia Lobenstein Carter, as choreographers and hula/cultural consultants for “The Haumana.”
“As haumana, as a student myself, I’m still very much learning,” said Woolford. “I’m a student for life. Once that stops, there’s no point.” Woolford, who before going onstage would warm up vocally with oli and physically with hula exercises, said that there is a strong correlation between hula and acting or filmmaking.
“We are storytellers,” he said.
“I’ve been all over the world—to London, New York—and it’s amazing how little people knew about our culture,” said Woolford. “I want to use the skills I have as a way to tell our stories from our perspective.” His film continues to find enthusiastic audiences worldwide, with screenings in 18 states and Canada, and international dates set for Japan and Mexico.
“I really, really want people to see this in a theater; there’s something magical about people going to the theater,” said Woolford. “And the subject, hula, from the perspective of Hawaiians and people of Hawaii—in context—has has never been seen before in a film.”
Woolford is currently working on a pilot for a TV series about a dysfunctional Asian family, and working with another BIFF alumni, Brian Kohne (“Get A Job”), to star in his upcoming film, “Kuleana.”
The concept of filmmakers as storytellers is at the foundation of BIFF, coined the “Talk Story Film Festival” by founders Leo and Jan Sears of Waikoloa. BIFF’s specialty is storytelling, in the vehicle of the narrative film—setting it apart from other film festivals that feature documentaries. Of the 48 Official Selections, stories are as diverse and creative as the imagination itself—from Civil War-era zombies to singing apples, time travel and betrayal, wolves, horses, and little princesses.
“The Haumana” will be screened on Friday, May 23, in the 7:30 p.m. film block, under the stars at Plantation Estate, along with select short films and a second feature, “Druid Peak.” Another film with Hawaii ties, “Druid Peak” features University of Hawaii-Hilo graduate TarZan (Ian Jan) Campbell in a coming of age story about a troubled teenage boy who finds a home in the wildlands of Yellowstone National Park, working with its wolf reintroduction program.
Double feature “festival films” (unrated, considered up to “R”) and select shorts are screened Friday through Sunday, under the stars at Plantation Estate, The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii. Tickets are $16, $12 kama’aina; parking is free. A no-host bar is provided, with pupus and movie snacks for purchase. Some chairs are available, with “VIP” chaise lounges for an upgrade fee, and beach chairs are welcome, though coolers are not allowed.
Free family films (up to PG-13) are shown at The Shops at Mauna Lani, Thursday through Sunday, as a gift to the community. One highlight among many, “Sophia Grace and Rosie’s Royal Adventure,” which plays on Friday, 7:30 p.m., stars bubbly British cousins Sophia Grace Brownlee and Rosie McClelland, frequent guests of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. In it, the girls are Ellen’s special correspondents, on a mission to help with the coronation of a princess. By special arrangement with Warner Brothers, BIFF presents the premiere one-time-only screening, as the movie will be released direct-to-DVD May 20.
Daytime movies, screened indoors Friday-Sunday in the air-conditioned Lehua Theatre, include the next action-packed installment of the “Bullitt” series, created by Kona filmmakers Richard Gonzalez and Rockwood, on Sunday, 2.pm. On Saturday and Sunday, screenwriting workshops by Hollywood pro Ron Osborn (“West Wing”) and NBC story/career consultant Jen Grisanti help writers take their ideas to the next level.
And in very special Hawaii appearances, Portia Doubleday (“Carrie,” “Youth in Revolt”) and Jackson Rathbone (the “Twighlight” series) are BIFF’s celebrity guests. Fans can get to know the stars at salutes and receptions in their honor on Saturday and Sunday respectively, with a film retrospecitve and in-depth interviews with Doubleday and Rathbone, then enjoy an elegant reception in Wailana Garden.
Not to be missed, the grand finale of BIFF 2014 takes place Monday, May 26, with a gala champagne Awards Brunch in the morning. Cost is $50 per ticket, with reservations required. That evening’s “Best of the Fest” event kicks off with Willie K in concert, followed by the audience-voted Best Feature and Best Short of BIFF 2014. Best of the Fest also includes a silent auction for Tripler Army Medical Center’s Fisher House, and a portion of each ticket sold goes to Hawaii Food Basket.
More than anything else, BIFF is, as the Sears’ have always said, a “talk story festival,” a celebration of countless stories and storytellers in our inspiring Hawaii home.
BIFF 2014 anchor sponsors include: The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, The Shops at Mauna Lani, Hawaii Tourism Authority/Hawaii County Department of Research and Development CPEP, Kenwood Vineyards, Redeeming Light International Inc. and many others. Tickets are available for individual events, or as inclusive passes. For complete schedule information and to purchase tickets on line, visit www.bigislandfilmfestival.com. Movie lovers can also find Big Island Film Festival on Facebook or call 883-0394.