Filmmaker Alika Tengan Is Giving Native Hawaiians A Bigger Spotlight

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This illustration is portion of our Culture Shifters series, which highlights radical who are changing the mode we deliberation astir the satellite astir us. Read astir movie archivist Maya Cade and rapper Latashá.

Alika Tengan was itching to marque thing successful 2020, aft a movie helium was hoping to sprout that twelvemonth was sidelined due to the fact that of the pandemic. That fall, his friend, freelance writer Naz Kawakami, told him immoderate large news: He was readying to determination to New York successful aboriginal 2021. The 2 decided it would beryllium absorbing to marque a movie astir leaving home, and the thought for “Every Day successful Kaimukī” was born.

That dilemma of whether to permission the acquainted and instrumentality a leap into the chartless is simply a communicative arsenic aged arsenic time. But arsenic Tengan explained implicit Zoom, “that speech is particularly absorbing successful the backdrop of Hawaii,” wherever some of them were calved and raised.

“Because he’s a half-Hawaiian feline similar myself — he’s Japanese and Native Hawaiian and achromatic — we had akin perspectives connected feeling Hawaiian but not Hawaiian enough, Japanese but not Japanese enough. I deliberation we related a batch successful that way. And helium has besides lived present his full life, and truthful moving for him was a large deal, arsenic it is for galore of america successful Hawaii,” Tengan said. “I deliberation being Hawaiian and not feeling Hawaiian capable tin springiness you a rootlessness, and it makes the determination to permission easier successful immoderate ways, and much analyzable successful immoderate ways too.”

“The much  that we stock  our stories that are conscionable  circumstantial  to our experiences increasing  up   here, it’s generating much  involvement  successful  those types of stories arsenic  well.”
“The much that we stock our stories that are conscionable circumstantial to our experiences increasing up here, it’s generating much involvement successful those types of stories arsenic well.”

Marie Eriel Hobro for HuffPost

They initially discussed making a documentary, but past decided to dramatize immoderate elements “just to marque it a small much compelling oregon interesting,” specified arsenic adding immoderate composite characters and having Kawakami play a much heightened mentation of himself. The film’s formed is simply a premix of trained actors and Kawakami’s existent friends.

“Every Day successful Kaimukī” premiered successful the Next class astatine this year’s Sundance Film Festival successful January, the archetypal Native Hawaiian feature-length movie to premiere astatine Sundance. It’s a heartfelt slice-of-life representation imbued with a consciousness of spot and individuality — portion not solely being astir that.

The movie evokes galore classical genres and acquainted experiences. Among different things, it’s a “hangout” movie, a “deciding whether to permission home” movie and a “being a 20-something idiosyncratic figuring retired adulthood” movie — that happens to halfway a Native Hawaiian protagonist. There are moments of humor, particularly successful Naz dealing with the logistical nightmares of moving, similar selling his worldly connected Craigslist and getting stuck connected aggregate telephone calls with his hose to corroborate helium tin safely bring his feline connected the agelong flight. He’s besides trying to savor his last moments with his friends and pastimes, similar skateboarding and being a late-night DJ astatine the assemblage vigor station.

“It’s truly close to surviving successful Hawaii and our experiences and our existent relationships and the mode that being Asian, being Hawaiian, being mixed is truthful endemic to our everyday, arsenic to not adjacent beryllium a portion of the conversation,” Tengan said. “It conscionable is.”

For autarkic filmmakers, a Sundance premiere has agelong been a immense vocation moment. Tengan had been excited to caput to the snowy peaks of Park City, Utah. But sadly, the omicron surge forced the festival to spell wholly virtual for the 2nd twelvemonth successful a row.

“That was tough. I inactive don’t cognize if I’ve gotten implicit it, the large pivot, but it is what it is,” helium said.

Thankfully, helium has been capable to instrumentality the movie to respective in-person festivals this spring, specified arsenic the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMFest successful San Francisco, wherever it was the closing-night film. He besides hopes to find a streaming location for it truthful that it tin beryllium seen much widely.

Tengan, 34, is arrogant to beryllium portion of a increasing question of Native Hawaiian filmmakers. Historically, a batch of Hawaii’s movie manufacture has been driven by extracurricular productions filming there, helium said. But implicit the past fewer years, helium has been blessed to spot much involvement successful and fiscal enactment for section talent.

“I deliberation there’s an unthinkable question of section Hawaiian filmmakers that are astir to conscionable beryllium coming up implicit the adjacent mates of years. And it’s a truly breathtaking clip for each that,” helium said. “The much that we stock our stories that are conscionable circumstantial to our experiences increasing up here, it’s generating much involvement successful those types of stories arsenic well. So there’s much support, much wealth — it’s this reciprocal thing.”

“To spot    this Polynesian filmmaker talking astir  this movie  that was truthful  circumstantial  to wherever  helium  grew up, but besides  truthful  charming and comic  and airy  and each  of these different   things ... I wanted to bash  that for Hawaii.”
“To spot this Polynesian filmmaker talking astir this movie that was truthful circumstantial to wherever helium grew up, but besides truthful charming and comic and airy and each of these different things ... I wanted to bash that for Hawaii.”

Marie Eriel Hobro for HuffPost

It’s thing he’s been trying to bash passim his career. Born and raised successful Kaneohe, connected the eastbound broadside of the land of Oahu, Tengan studied movie astatine the University of Hawaii astatine Manoa. His archetypal movie professor, a groundbreaking Māori filmmaker named Merata Mita, “exposed america to Indigenous cinema. I hadn’t been studying creation location films my full life. It took maine a portion to get into that world. So the conception of indigenous cinema was precise caller to me,” helium said. Mita, an aboriginal protagonist of manager Taika Waititi, showed Tengan’s people Waititi’s Oscar-nominated abbreviated “Two Cars, One Night,” which hugely influenced Tengan. Another 1 of Tengan’s professors, Lisette Flanary, who plays a tiny relation successful “Every Day successful Kaimukī,” invited Waititi to talk to her people successful 2010, the twelvemonth his breakthrough movie “Boy” premiered.

“That was besides different immense infinitesimal for me, to spot this Polynesian filmmaker talking astir this movie that was truthful circumstantial to wherever helium grew up, but besides truthful charming and comic and airy and each of these different things,” Tengan said. “And I wanted to bash that for Hawaii. I felt we could bash that present due to the fact that we person a richness of quality and story. So that’s what I’ve been wanting to bash ever since.”

When helium graduated successful 2013, helium wasn’t definite precisely however to get into the movie business. Adding to his uncertainty, helium was gravely injured successful a car accident, which sidelined him for respective years. “I did a batch of aggravated soul-searching, I think, during that time. Because adjacent erstwhile I was successful movie school, I was like, ‘Am I chopped retired for this?’ and trying to fig retired wherever I acceptable into the filmmaking ecosystem. Was I going to beryllium an editor, oregon a writer, oregon a DP, oregon director? I had a batch of uncertainty successful movie school, and past the mishap happened. So determination was a batch of repurposing and reconfiguring what I wanted retired of life.”

When helium felt acceptable to get backmost into filmmaking, a person told him that HBO’s annual abbreviated movie contention for emerging Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers was taking submissions. “It was a truly bully punctual for maine to beryllium like, ‘OK, let’s effort to marque something,’ due to the fact that deadlines are everything,” Tengan said.

Tengan pulled retired a publication helium had written backmost successful movie school, “Keep You Float,” and called up an aged classmate, Jonah Okano. The 2 co-directed the abbreviated successful 2016, shooting it successful 1 day. It started a taxable successful Tengan’s career: deadlines, scrappiness, and moving with his friends.

The short, astir a radical of friends deciding wherever to scatter their precocious friend’s ashes, was accepted into a section festival, the ’Ohina Short Film Showcase. Tengan and different participating filmmakers got to be a writers workshop, led by “Black Panther” co-writer Joe Robert Cole. Tengan’s enactment impressed Cole, who went connected to counsel him connected his adjacent abbreviated film, “Mauka to Makai,” which Tengan wrote and changeable successful 2018.

“Joe was amazing. It had happened close earlier ‘Black Panther’ was coming out. And I didn’t deliberation he’d beryllium disposable astatine each due to the fact that he’d beryllium 1 of the busiest radical successful the world. But helium inactive truly made clip to assistance maine and spell implicit the publication with maine and gave truly thoughtful notes. And we’re inactive successful touch. He’s a fantastic guy.”

In March 2019, “Mauka to Makai” played astatine the Māoriland Film Festival, a large Indigenous movie festival successful New Zealand. That was different formative acquisition for Tengan. During the festival, his roommate was a chap Hawaiian artist, cinematographer Chapin Hall, who went connected to sprout “Every Day successful Kaimukī.” The 2 bonded and decided they wanted to enactment together.

“Chapin was like, ‘I person my camera cogwheel with me, and I’m going to beryllium successful Hawaii for astir a week earlier I person to alert backmost to LA for a job,’” Tengan said. “If I could constitute thing successful a week, helium was down to sprout it. And again, deadlines are everything. So I was like, ‘OK, great. Let’s effort to bash something.’”

Tengan wrote what became “Moloka’i Bound.” It came unneurotic quickly, successful portion due to the fact that it starred Holden Mandrial-Santos, the prima of “Mauka to Makai,” who is besides Tengan’s roommate and friend. The 2 attended the aforesaid precocious schoolhouse and had akin upbringings, which helped Mandrial-Santos convey what Tengan was looking for successful a prima for his films. In different idiosyncratic connection, they changeable “Moloka’i Bound” connected the steps of Tengan’s aged simple school.

“I truly  emotion  moving   with nonactors ... due to the fact that I deliberation  they bring thing  ineffable to the surface  and thing  that’s truly  hard   to formed  for.”
“I truly emotion moving with nonactors ... due to the fact that I deliberation they bring thing ineffable to the surface and thing that’s truly hard to formed for.”

Marie Eriel Hobro for HuffPost

“Moloka’i Bound” won the grant for champion live-action abbreviated movie astatine the 2019 ImagineNATIVE Film Festival successful Toronto, which qualified it for Oscar consideration. (It’s available to watercourse connected The Criterion Channel.) Tengan had written the short, which consists of conscionable 1 scene, intending it arsenic “a jumping-off point, proof-of-concept benignant of thing” for a diagnostic film. With the occurrence of the short, helium wrote the publication for the feature, which was selected for the 2020 Indigenous List, an offshoot of the Black List, the yearly database of the champion unproduced screenplays.

By aboriginal 2020, the wheels were successful question to perchance commencement shooting the diagnostic mentation of “Moloka’i Bound.” But the pandemic upended those plans. Tengan recovered himself spinning his wheels, until helium and Kawakami, whom helium met a fewer years anterior erstwhile Kawakami interviewed him for a communicative astir the section movie scene, started talking astir their imaginable project.

Once again, different deadline motivated Tengan to marque the film. “After we some agreed that we wanted to bash this, I had gone to his house, and I took my telephone retired and I recorded a dependable memo. And I was conscionable like, ‘Tell maine everything that led up to this infinitesimal for you to marque this decision,’” Tengan said. “We had that gathering astir Thanksgiving successful 2020. And due to the fact that helium mentioned that helium was going to determination successful fundamentally February oregon March, determination was already a built-in ticking clock.”

While continuing to bring “Every Day successful Kaimukī” to much festivals and find a distributor for it, Tengan is backmost to enactment connected “Moloka’i Bound,” for which helium was awarded a $500,000 assistance from Ava DuVernay’s institution Array and Google. He aims to sprout the movie aboriginal this year, with Mandrial-Santos reprising his role. Once again, Tengan wants to formed a premix of nonrecreational and nonprofessional actors, which helium says gives his films “a truly absorbing alchemy.”

“I truly emotion moving with nonactors, particularly for these types of films, due to the fact that I deliberation they bring thing ineffable to the surface and thing that’s truly hard to formed for, due to the fact that these roles are truthful specific.”

Now with much enactment and a bigger profile, Tengan admits to feeling a spot of pressure. “It’s the astir ambitious happening I’ve ever done, truthful it’s scary. It’s scary and nerve-wracking. And I’m besides utilized to, I think, making things nether the radar. So this astir apt won’t beryllium nether the radar, to an extent. And I’m trying to negociate my expectations oregon feelings astir that. I’ve ne'er had expectations before. I anticipation that we tin unrecorded up to them.”

Adding to that unit is his ngo to support supporting the maturation of much Native Hawaiian filmmakers. “I’m ace grateful to beryllium successful this presumption due to the fact that we worked truly hard to get here. A batch of radical were a portion of that, and I conscionable privation to warrant people’s religion successful what we’re doing. I don’t privation to discarded people’s time, due to the fact that radical person been truly supportive. The section movie assemblage is truthful supportive. And truthful yeah, it needs to beryllium bully for them — for everybody.”

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