Pacific Islanders in Communication Mourns the Passing of Beloved Executive Director

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Leanne Kaʻiulani Ellen Kang Ferrer
Aug. 27, 1967 – Aug. 12, 2021

Photo: Leanne Kaʻiulani Ellen Kang Ferrer
Leanne Kaʻiulani Ellen Kang Ferrer – Photo: Courtesy

By Cheryl Hirasa, PIC managing director and vice president of Programs

Leanne Kaʻiulani Ellen Kang Ferrer was a force of nature.

An inspiring and tireless leader, storyteller, mother, daughter, sister, friend, advocate, and visionary, Leanne was a beacon for the independent film community in Hawaiʻi, across the Pacific and beyond. She passed away in August surrounded by family and friends. The loss of her presence is profound. We send her husband, daughter and son our deepest appreciation for sharing her with us.

Leanne left an indelible mark on Hawaiʻi and countless Pacific Islander media artists, as well as partners and collaborators across the film community. The legacy of her impact lives on in innumerable spaces: from Pacific Islanders in Communication (PIC), where she was executive director, to the Hawaiian Media Makers that she spearheaded, to her early years at PBS Hawaiʻi.

She nurtured and influenced the likes of Chelsea Winstanley, Heperi Mita, Heather Giugni, Sergio Rapu, Alika Maikau, Ciara Lacy, Lisette Marie Flanary, Ty Sanga, Kumu Hina, Erin Lau, and many more. Leanne’s legacy lives on in the many people whom she cared for and mentored.

“Leanne was my daily dose of inspiration,” said filmmaker Heather Giugni. “She gave us the opportunity to reach our greatest potential. And she always made me laugh.”

“The first time I met her was on a visit to the PIC office,” recalled filmmaker Lauren Kawana. “She was so warm and welcoming, and I will never forget – barefoot! I remember thinking…that is how I work in the office, and how I always love to work! It was refreshing to see an executive doing the same. We talked story, and I left feeling inspired, thinking she exuded aloha in a way we all should aspire to.”

Leanne joined PIC in 2008 as a program manager, became the director of programming and in 2013 ascended to the role of executive director. In her 13 years of service she was a passionate advocate for public media, its critical role in a democratic society and its power to inform, educate and engage communities across the country.

With her passion, Leanne navigated PIC to new horizons with a particular focus on normalizing Pacific Islander stories as part of America’s, and the world’s, growing ethnic and cultural diversity. She co-created Pacific Heartbeat, the only public television series by and about Pacific Islander people, culture and experiences, which has been running for 10 years.

“I consider Leanne a dear friend and one of the greatest collaborators I have ever had the honor of working with,” said PBS Hawaiʻi Vice President of Learning Initiatives Robert Pennybacker. “Our co-creation of Pacific Heartbeat is without a doubt one of the brightest moments of my career. Leanne had a big heart, which she always shared openly and generously. She was a tireless champion for Pacific Islander storytellers across the globe.”

Leanne oversaw numerous productions in partnership with the National Multicultural Alliance, PBS, the WORLD Channel, American Public Television and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. As the digital world opened up to audiences far and wide, Pacific Pulse was born to showcase Pacific Islander stories and talent through innovative short films.

Leanne’s realization that connecting media makers to network and share knowledge was of the utmost importance to supporting a thriving creative community, which resulted in the PIC Media Makers Summit, Hawaiian Handbook for Media Protocol and the Hawaiian Media Makers Database.

“With Leanne’s passing, the Pacific audiovisual community has lost one of its most ardent defenders. She was an amazing woman and still is, through her legacy,” said Festival International du Film Documnentaire Oceanien Director Mareva Leu of Tahiti. “Committed and with exceptional kindness, she devoted her whole life to promote the Indigenous audiovisual industry, by Indigenous people. May her convictions turn into legacy for all of us who suffer tremendously from her loss. ʻIa maitaʻi i tō ʻoe tere e Leanne. E mihi atu mātou ʻia ʻoe. ʻA fano ma te hau.”

Prior to joining PIC, Leanne worked for Disney Films and PBS Hawaiʻi. She also served as the previous Board President for Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking, founding member and advisory board member of the Hawaiian Media Makers and the Hawaiʻi Film Foundation at Nuʻumealani.

Through everything that she did, Leanne led with love, conviction, compassion and generosity. In a recent interview, Leanne said, “It is most critical to keep supporting content creators in telling Pacific Islander stories. Without storytellers, we can’t continue to preserve our heritage through the language of multimedia.”

Though we grieve, the PIC ʻohana is also celebrating Leanne’s life and legacy by continuing to be champions and advocates for Pacific Islander makers and content. Leanne had a vision for a thriving independent media landscape that’s fair, inclusive, and equitable for Pacific Islander media makers in front of and behind the camera. Like Leanne, our work will be carried forward with authenticity, compassion, care, and aloha.