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HPU video at Smithsonian

by Crystal Silva, Etcetera editor


A documentary written, directed, and produced by the HPU Advanced Video Production class about the island of Kaho‘olawe was presented by the Smithsonian Institute from June 5 through Sept. 2. The video will be featured in the Hawai‘i International Film Festival and is currently at the Bishop Museum.

Kaho‘olawe: Ka Ha o ko makou mau Kupuna (The Breath of our Ancestors) was the collaborative project with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission and Jacqueline Langley’s communication students Jackson Bauer, Connie Bridgman, Tharshish Johnson, Phil Ajolo, and Mitch Mann. The KIRC has been Kaho‘olawe’s caretaker since 1993, and has since worked toward the island’s physical and spiritual restoration.

Click on image for larger view

aho‘olawe is the smallest of the Hawaiian Islands. Once an island supporting a rich ecosystem, man slowly devastated Kaho’olawe’s environment. Warring Hawaiian chiefs burned the lush forests. Captain Vancouver’s “gift” of goats wiped out almost all of the native foliage. Ranching devastated what was left. The Navy used Kaho‘olawe as a target range in World War II and hit it with almost every type of ammunition available. The bombing ceased in 1990, leaving a barren wasteland where there was once a rich environment covered in green forests.

Langley let it be known in the community that the class was available to do corporate videos for non profit organizations at a lower rate than professionals. She received several queries, but none, she said, was as interesting or crucial as the one at the KIRC. “This project was important because it had a strong cultural connection for those born here and is still significant for those of us from the outside,” said Langley.

The project turned out to be bigger than anyone expected. Langley, her students, and Mark Nitta, manager of the Video Communication Lab at HPU, spent much of the spring semester working on the project and flying to Kaho‘olawe to film and do research. “It was a lot of hard work,” said Nitta. “We were here throughout the whole spring break, and a lot of nights and weekends.”

Langley, Nitta, and the students found themselves participating in some of the cultural activities organized by groups such as the KIRC and the Preserve Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, including walking up a mountain with no shoes to remember what the native Hawaiians had to endure when they traveled. They also observed several chants (oli), and hulas between interviews with group members. “There were moments when (the groups) did certain cultural activities, and asked that we shut the cameras off,” said Langley. “That was disappointing, because I felt that some of the most poignant moments were the moments they asked to keep private.”

The group had to keep in mind the magnitude and the goals of the project. Nitta reminded the students that the video had nothing to do with their own personal gain, but what they could do for the island. “We had to do a lot of things to set it apart from other videos,” said Nitta. “Anyone could have done a video of Kaho‘olawe, but we had to satisfy the people who are from there. They had to immerse themselves in the project and understand the Hawaiian culture.”

The project resulted in a video documentary that was played in the Smithsonian Institute at an exhibit showcasing Kaho‘olawe. The KIRC was so pleased with the finished product that they paid for Jackson Bauer, the student director who had never been out of Hawai‘i before, to fly to Washington D.C. “This was definitely the biggest project we have ever taken on,” said Langley. “But it was one of my most gratifying teaching experiences.”

The project is far from over, however. Bauer is currently working on an interactive DVD. “The video looked at the future. The DVD will discuss more history,” said Bauer. He traveled back to Kaho‘olawe on Oct. 15 to film additional scenes.

The Hawai‘i International Film Festival will run Nov. 1-10.


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