Hawaiʻi’s Video Storytellers: When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Photo: Joan Lander and Puhipau
Puhipau and Joan Lander on location in the 1980s.- Photos: Courtesy

Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina: Joan Lander and Puhipau

In Hawaiʻi’s tightly-knit community of ʻōiwi video storytellers and documentary-makers, Joan Lander and Puhipau (Abe Ahmad) are honored as revered kūpuna. The duo, whose video company Nā Maka o Ka ʻĀina was established in 1981, were among the first videographers to produce documentaries about the burgeoning aloha ʻāina and Hawaiian sovereignty movements.

A familiar sight at protests or evictions, for 35 years they filmed the events occurring in the Native Hawaiian community. Their work includes a plethora of political videos on topics including Kahoʻolawe, sovereignty and Hawaiian language immersion. But their work was not limited to social justice and activism. They also produced a large body of work documenting various aspects of Hawaiian culture, music and wahi pana, recording thousands of hours of interviews with kūpuna and cultural experts, many of whom have since passed on.

Photo: Video Library
More than 8,000 Nā Maka o Ka ʻĀina videotapes await cataloging and digitizing. – Photos: Courtesy

When Puhipau passed in 2016, Nā Maka o Ka ʻĀina had produced some 98 titles and had screened their documentaries at 82 Film Festivals across the globe in places like Germany, Fiji, Sweden, Brazil, Russia and Iran. Over the years their work garnered 13 International Film Festival Awards and another 11 Community Awards here in Hawaiʻi. Their documentaries have been aired on major Hawaiʻi broadcast stations and ʻŌiwiTV, on various public access channels locally and on the continent, on the national and local PBS channels, and on international television in Aotearoa, Canada, Australia, Samoa and Denmark.

Lander and Puhipau met when Lander was helping to edit a Windward Video (Victoria Keith and Jerry Rochford) production called “The Sand Island Story” which documented the 1980 Sand Island eviction. Puhipau was spokesperson for the group that was arrested, and had been asked to narrate the video. “It was a happy partnership when Puhipau and I got together,” reflects Lander. “He wanted to use video to create programs about his people’s history of dispossession, and I wanted to be more involved with Hawaiian issues programming. Our partnership enabled me to work with him to tell the stories of his people and his land.”

That partnership proved to be ground-breaking. Working as co-producers and co-directors, Lander operated the camera and Puhipau was the sound recordist and interviewer. “I could see the look in people’s eyes as they talked to Puhipau, knowing they could trust him with their words and images,” Lander recalls. “He was always intent on elevating them, honoring their words, giving them recognition. And they could sense this.”

Now 73, Lander hopes that their videos will provide future generations with a record of what life in Hawaiʻi was like during the last quarter of the 20th century and early 21st century, and how the Hawaiian people have tried to save their way of life. “One thing that struck me doing research over the years was how pictures told the story in a way that books never could. The old photos and film footage lets us see people living their lives in times past and trying to hold on to what was precious to them.”

Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina laid the foundation for subsequent generations of Hawaiian video storytellers, and Lander is optimistic about that future. “Puhipau and I were drop-jawed when we saw all the coverage of the Maunakea demonstrations in 2014 and 2015,” Lander said. “Here were these young folks shooting the events on their cell phones and uploading them within hours or live-streaming. And their videos were going viral!” Just ten years earlier in 2005, Lander and Puhipau had completed “Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege,” a one-hour documentary that took them years to produce and which aired just two times on PBS.

“The stories today are told through amazing videography and compelling music and art, all put together succinctly,” Lander mused. “ʻChanging the world through access to mass media,’ our mantra back in the 70s, is happening now more effectively than ever before.”

These days, Lander’s focus is on raising money to preserve, catalog and digitize Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina’s library of over 8,000 videotapes so the footage will be accessible to future filmmakers and researchers. It’s a huge job and significant funding is required for air conditioning to keep the tapes in a climate-controlled environment, for equipment maintenance, for storage drives and for the time required to do the work. Eventually, the entire collection will be deposited at ʻUluʻulu: The Henry Kuʻualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawaiʻi at UH West Oʻahu.

As Lander reflects on her years of documentary filming in Hawaiʻi, her thoughts naturally turn to Puhipau, who started as her video partner and became her husband. “I was the editor, but Puhipau had the final say in whatever went out under Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina’s name. It was his culture, his country, his people’s stories. It was a total blessing to be able to work with him for 35 years and help tell those stories. My job now is to preserve his legacy by making all the material we produced accessible.”

Visit Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina’s website at: www.HawaiianVoice.com, or their YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/HawaiianVoice. Some of their programs can also be streamed on: www.oiwi.tv.

Juniroa Productions/Rock Salt Media and ʻUluʻulu: Heather Haunani Giugni

Giugni at the 2014 Hawaiʻi International Film Festival.- Photos: Courtesy

In 1985, shortly after the launch of Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina, another major ʻōiwi talent emerged on the scene when Heather Giugni created Juniroa Productions with partner Esther Figueroa, who Giugni says, “taught me to embrace Hawaiian politics.”

Barely 31 years-old at the time, Giugni, a Kamehameha Schools Kapālama graduate, left a stable position at KGMB News because she could not see a career pathway to becoming a TV Newscast Director; at the time, only men were being groomed for that role. She also wanted to do stories about Hawaiians. When she resigned a colleague told her she was “making the mistake of her life.”

Giugni learned her craft in the 1980s, inspired by the issues and players she met in those early years. “In the 70s, Videololo, a group of artsy, passionate, socially-conscious folks were documenting life in Hawaiʻi,” recalls Giugni. “Joan Lander was part of that group. Don Ho hired Videololo to film George Helm at an ʻIolani Palace event. There was also another production company at the time called Windward Video. They produced the documentary on Sand Island and that became a seminal film for its time. Then Joan and Puhipau created Nā Maka O Ka ʻĀina and became history.”

An early Juniroa production was called E Mau Ana Ka Haʻaheo: Enduring Pride, a lifestyle series sponsored in part by OHA and Kamehameha Schools which aired on KHET and KGMB from 1986-1987. Giugni went on to produce On Target, a health series for and about Native Hawaiians which was broadcast on KITV in 1995, One Voice, a 2009 documentary about the Kamehameha Schools’ Song Contest, and Under a Jarvis Moon, a 2010 documentary co-directed by Giugni and Noelle Kahanu, about the young men, recruited primarily from Kamehameha Schools, who were sent to “colonize” the strategically located Line Islands in the 1930s and 40s.

In 2012 she re-branded Juniroa Productions “Rock Salt Media” and in 2014 she won an Emmy for Family Ingredients, a PBS series hosted by chef Ed Kenney that explored the untold stories behind the dishes and recipes of Hawaiʻi’s shared community. More recently, Giugni co-produced the Hawaiian language version of Disney’s animated feature, Moana.

From the start, Giugni focused on the importance of training more Hawaiians in the field. “I wanted Hawaiians to be able to use these tools to tell our stories; to be in front of and behind the camera, and to even make it a career choice!” exclaimed Giugni.

In the early 1990s Giugni was involved in a variety of “media activist” efforts to create video curriculum and to create a space for indigenous filmmakers. She was one of the founding members of Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), established in 1991 to “support, advance and develop” Pacific Island media content and talent. A decade or so later, Hollywood Producer and ʻIolani graduate Chris Lee returned to Hawaiʻi to establish the Academy for Creative Media (ACM) at UH Mānoa. This is where legendary Maori filmmaker Merata Mita taught and mentored many of Hawaiʻi’s current filmmakers including Naʻalehu Anthony (Palikū Documentary films) and ʻĀina Paikai who just produced and directed Hawaiian Soul (see related story).

With the establishment of entities such as PIC, ACM, ʻŌiwiTV, the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network and Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking, in addition to the contributions of dozens of individual filmmakers, such as Meleanna Aluli Meyer (Puamana 1991), Stephanie Castillo (Simple Courage 1992), Ciara Lacy (Out of State 2017), Erin Lau (The Moon and The Night 2017), and Justyn Ah Chong (Down on the Sidewalk in Waikīkī 2019), the future of ʻōiwi filmmaking is bright. “We have been crazy successful as long as you measure success by the art created and the social change that you make,” declared Giugni. “This career is not easy. It is about grants and passion. It’s about story and community and making a difference.”

Giugni’s passion for film is not only to create, but to preserve. Filmmakers have long seen the need to protect, catalog and house the moving images of Hawaiʻi for future generations, but funding was always an issue. Then in 2008, Senator Daniel Inouye was able to secure a congressionally directed grant through the U.S. Department of Education to create Hawaiʻi’s first moving image archive, “ʻUluʻulu: The Henry Kuʻualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawaiʻi.” The archive is housed at UH West Oʻahu and is officially a project of the ACM. It is named for Giugni’s father, a long-time friend and aide of Senator Inouye’s and the first U.S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms of Hawaiian ancestry. Giugni serves on staff at ʻUluʻulu as Collections Specialist/Producer.

The mission of ʻUluʻulu is to preserve film and videotape related to the history and culture of Native Hawaiians and the people of Hawaiʻi. ʻUluʻulu is supported, in part, by OHA’s Hale Noelo Research and Technology Center. “Celluloid arrived in the islands in the early 1900s. By the 1920s Hollywood went crazy for Hawaiʻi and we became a pathetic, savage backdrop in most of their films,” Giugni said. “When we took over the cameras in the 1970s, that began to change. Today we have wonderful storytellers from younger generations who have continued the work that was started 40 years ago. You can find all of this and more at ʻUluʻulu.”

For more information go to: uluulu.hawaii.edu/.

ʻŌiwi TV: Naʻalehu Anthony and Bryson Hoe

Hoe (left) and Anthony behind the scenes at an ʻŌiwiTV production. – Photo: Courtesy ʻŌiwiTV, Leimaile Barret

For Naʻalehu Anthony, filmmaking was born from the idea of protest. His parents are Jim Anthony and Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa, well-known community activists, and he “grew up” on the protest circuit in the 1980s before it was cool. “We used to go down to the capitol and hold signs and I remember thinking as a kid, ʻthere has to be a better way to do this,’” said Anthony.

Even as a child, Anthony realized that the news media wasn’t giving their grievances fair coverage; if indeed the media showed up at all. It occurred to him that the activists were missing an important piece of the puzzle: access to cameras and microphones. “Once I realized the power of media, I knew that if I just owned a camera, I could tell the stories we wanted to tell, and we could have the kind of conversations with our people that we’re having now.” His need to tell the stories about the issues affecting the Hawaiian people was the genesis for Anthony’s production company, Palikū Documentary Films.

Anthony started Palikū in 1999. He quickly realized that having equipment and filming rallies felt great, but it wasn’t going to enable him to support his family. He decided to go back to college to pursue an MBA to learn how to actually make a living at filmmaking. It was during his time studying business at UH Mānoa that the idea for ʻŌiwiTV began to form. “It was the answer to getting content for Hawaiians by Hawaiians about Hawaiians to a large audience before social media came along.”

ʻŌiwiTV was launched in 2008 by Anthony and co-founders Amy Kalili and Keoni Lee. Kamehameha Schools saw the value in what they were trying to accomplish and helped pitch the idea to Oceanic Time-Warner, who gave them a channel. “It was Video on Demand, basically an early version of the internet on TV,” said Anthony. “We captured our audience before Facebook or Instagram or any of those things, and then we transitioned with people as the platforms changed.”

To get ʻŌiwiTV off the ground, Anthony needed content so he flew to Hawaiʻi Island to meet with Nā Maka o Ka ʻĀina. “You cannot talk about indigenous filmmaking in Hawaiʻi without giving a nod to Joan and Puhipau. They were doing it when it was straight up impossible to do it. And they did it with no money or resources and they kept doing it,” recalls Anthony. “I said to them, ʻLet me borrow ten of your top titles for six months and let’s see what happens.’ And that is how we got the content for ʻŌiwi. I walked away from that meeting with a box of tapes.”

Undoubtedly the most epic project during Anthony’s tenure at ʻŌiwiTV was producing the film, Moananuiākea, which combined Anthony’s two passions: sailing and filming. “Part of me believes that, unknowingly, we created ʻŌiwiTV to do the worldwide voyage,” reflects Anthony. “I know we’re the only ones who could have done it. Our staff went to crew training and became crew members. That was the only way to get the kind of intimate content that made it into the film; we were insiders capturing these moments. The biggest compliment I got as the leader of the storytelling component of the voyage, was when the captains and navigators would tell me ʻThose ʻŌiwi guys can sail with me anywhere.’”

“As we capture these stories, we recapture our voice and the mana therein,” reflects Anthony. “And when we broadcast it back out it reverberates in the community, and that builds into the way we see Hawaiians being activated today. That’s the important part about moʻolelo; we haven’t forgotten the stories, we are retelling them as we go. We are adding to our story and we’re doing it with purpose.”

For almost a decade Anthony managed ʻŌiwiTV, training and mentoring dozens of people, many of whom have continued in the business. However, Anthony recently passed the mantle of leadership to Bryson Hoe who now serves as Executive Director of ʻŌiwiTV, allowing Anthony to focus on creating content via Palikū. ʻŌiwiTV has been reorganized as a nonprofit, and Anthony is confident Hoe will take it to the next level. “Bryson is well-equipped to run the television station. He’s the kind of leader that will always be forward-thinking and will fine tune the station to be a better deliverer of content to our people.”

With almost 11 years at ʻŌiwiTV, Hoe is prepared for the challenge. He initially learned the business working for Anthony at Palikū during summers while attending college. He graduated in 2009 and was actually considering a graduate program in public health when he was offered a full-time position at ʻŌiwiTV. “The discussion was about what to do and how to give back,” Hoe shared. “I could design public health programs and maybe a handful of people would adopt them, or I could leverage the impact of technology and media to change the conversation about Hawaiians and where we are as a lāhui.”

Like Anthony, Hoe’s biggest project to date was participating in the worldwide voyage and working on Moananuiākea. “I was the data contact for our person on the canoe during each leg of the voyage,” said Hoe. “So pretty much every day of the 1,000 day voyage I was online answering emails and tracking the media.” It was also Hoe’s first voyage. He sailed on the leg from Darwin, Australia to Bali, Indonesia. Hoe’s father, Kealoha Hoe, a 20-year voyaging veteran, was on the next leg, from Bali to Mauritius. “To see my dad in Indonesia and to hand the canoe off to him was pretty cool,” remembers Hoe. “We had a moment out there and I finally understood what it was like to be on the canoe and why it was so special to him.”

With an eye on the future of ʻŌiwiTV, Hoe is looking for new ways to leverage technology. “The way we tell stories has changed over time, and we are trying to do more with less. How do we take one piece of media and use it for multiple purposes on different platforms? Economics are always an issue and so we are forced to be nimble and try to use technology to make things easier at lower price points without sacrificing quality or credibility.”

In terms of creating content and programming, Hoe understands that video storytellers are in a privileged position to capture moments, whether it is visually, or in the ʻike shared during an interview. “You often have no idea the ʻike that’s embedded in these conversations until later. You may have asked questions for your story, but the ʻike they shared was not related to the story you were trying to tell; they just wanted the opportunity to tell the stories that are important to them and have it recorded for posterity.”

Hoe believes the future for the station is both as a content creator and a content conduit for other ʻōiwi filmmakers and producers. “Our next step is to build capacity and anticipate the type of technological expertise needed to move forward as storytellers. We always want to be content creators because it keeps us sharp,” Hoe emphasizes. “But we aren’t the only ones producing content. So how do we leverage that? Maybe a content aggregation platform where all content is available in one place.” In particular, Hoe is excited about the potential for collaborating on creating content in Hawaiian for children. “There’s an overwhelming demand for kids’ programming. Instead of Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, why not create programs that draw on our own stories in our own language?”

ʻŌiwiTV is part of a global consortium of indigenous broadcasters, but unlike most of them, has no government funding support. Hoe looks to these broadcasters, with healthy budgets for research and development, for examples of formatting and best practices that can fast-track programming at ʻŌiwiTV. “Our storytelling is very similar to what is being done around the world in other indigenous communities, from Australia and Aotearoa to Norway and Wales. They have the same concerns, like language revitalization and normalization. So by learning from them, we can accelerate our 20-year trajectory.”

Visit ʻŌiwiTV and check-out their programming at: https://oiwi.tv/