This year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Hawaii International Film Festival. It was presented by Halekulani and ran on Oahu from October 30 to November 9. Over the course of these ten days, I attended the screenings of two foreign films, the Student Showcase, and the Actor’s Workshop featuring Marcia Gay Harden.
The first film I saw was A Teacher’s Diary. This was a Thai film about two teachers who work at a small houseboat school, but during different years. During their respective years teaching, they are inspired and encouraged from reading each other’s journal entries of their experiences. The conflicts with the love interests felt somewhat silly and cliché, but it was still entertaining. Particularly, the kids who were cast as students were cute and funny. This movie wasn’t overly dramatic or tragic, but it still left a heartfelt impact. It was a sweet, touching story about two teachers who didn’t just want to get their students to pass through the system in order to get paid, but truly cared about their students so much that they overcame personal obstacles and used any means possible, no matter how unconventional, to make a difference in their lives.
Later, I saw the film Jalanan, which was a documentary about three street musicians in Indonesia. Although they are talented, they still struggle to make a living. Two of them are homeless, and the other is a hardworking wife and mother who provides the only source of income for her family. Unfortunately, on the night I saw this film, there were screen blackouts and playback issues that were distracting. Still, it was interesting to learn about musicians who play their songs directly inside public buses. I don’t think this method would work in America, where people are very concerned about their personal spaces being crowded, but it’s a good strategy to make people feel more obligated to give you money for your entertainment.
One HIFF event that I’m glad I got to see was the annual Student Showcase. Out of all eleven short films that were presented, there were three that really stood out to me. One was called “Eating Disorders,” which was a really short PSA, probably less than a minute. I think makeup or lighting techniques could have been utilized more to give the girl a more haggard, unhealthy appearance, but I still thought it delivered a strong message. Another short I enjoyed was “Macbeth’s Dagger.” It was suspenseful and creepy, and I thought it was clever how shadows were used to give the appearance of a floating dagger. The last short, “The Sled Challenge of Pele and Kahawali,” was a perfect ending to the screening. I liked how this short incorporated hula dancing and chanting done by both males and females. It was a great opportunity to show the students’ creativity and talents through their films.
I was fortunate to attend one of the creative labs: the Actor’s Workshop with Marcia Gay Harden. It was a surreal experience for me, as this was the first time I had ever seen an actor or celebrity of her standing in person. She was very funny and down-to-earth, and gave a very informational speech about the importance of the actor being able to show empathy and vulnerability. She also shared a funny story of how she embarrassed herself in front of a casting agent many years ago when she was still auditioning for roles in New York. I definitely hope and look forward to attending the Actor’s Workshop again next year.
Overall, HIFF was an amazing experience. My whole life, I have loved watching movies, but participating in HIFF taught me how to analyze and search for the true, hidden messages. I was definitely exposed to a variety of international films that I never would have seen, much less heard of, if it weren’t for HIFF. I enjoyed seeing other cultures being represented in the films, and how they used different techniques of storytelling and highlighting lessons and values that were important to their cultures. Despite all the different genres and techniques used, the films I watched still had something in common, and it was that they showed the very essence of humanity, how people connect with and relate to each other.