Playing at the
Regal L.A. LIVE: A Barco Innovation Center
1000 W Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA
Saturday | September 25, 2021
The Pacific Cinewaves Program at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival is my go to for kick starting this event. It’s free / pay what you can, because there’s no reason not to miss all the messages being delivered about how to preserve the ancient world of Polynesia.
The various pieces offer a delightful, supernatural and meditative exploration on what makes this part of the world unique. I say this with mixed feelings, because not all the countries in this vast region are represented. We have Guam, and a beautifully family oriented tale about how to reconnect with one’s faith in How to Catch a Taotaomona.
Six shorts make up this look into the culture far away and it’s mostly focussed on Hawai’i. From Fana’guyan to River of Small Gods, nearly every aspect of this world is nicely explored. It’s all seen from the eyes of those who either grew up here or are using this medium to help reconnect with their heritage. The following is a look at the works that were made available to me to remotely screen.
Longing for Hawai’i is a powerful look at what being an individual from there is like, especially if they’ve moved away. It’s not about the differences in how they look when in an American school. It also points out how Disney’s Lilo & Stitch is inaccurate. Not everyone is going to look like the titular characters as portrayed. I’d be interested in what writer/producer/director Katia Barricklow has to say about Moana.
River of Small Gods is perhaps a better look into the spiritual side of life. When a native has to turn to minor crime to get by, what she learns about theft indicates all that’s left behind and she has to learn how to reconnect with the land. The spirits are everywhere and they are watching. She’s tasked by a sculptor to retrieve some lava stones for his next project, but in what she discovers deals with a lot more. The ending felt ambiguous, suggesting that this piece by Bradley Tangonan may well expand it to a feature length work.
At least Hawaiian Soul gets to the heart; It’s the true story of George Jarrett Helm Jr., a musician turned activist who used the power of song to spread the gospel. He disliked the fact the Americans were using the island of Kaho’olawe for target practice. All those bombs are destroying a part of what makes this island chain unique, and perhaps some archeological evidence as well. A lot of information is presented and it’s eye-opening. There’s many ways to get people to ‘revolt’ in the right way, and this conscientious individual shows the right way to do things, and not get jailed for it.
How To Catch A Taotaomona is a lighter piece about youths also reconnecting with their past. Although they don’t believe in the traditions their parents follow, they should still honour it instead of forgetting about it, and for Raph, he learns the hard way in what happens when he doesn’t respect the world he’s from since he has to travel through the jungle everyday to reach school. There’s a light Goonies level vibe which makes this piece a fun watch!
Not every Polynesian world can be treated as simply a place of wonder or as a vacation spot for the rich and famous. The people are proud of who they are, and the short films offered show a side that’s not featured in huge productions. As much as I love Magnum, P.I. and other television programs that use Hawai’i as a setting, they’re rarely about the culture. It’s a shame, but thankfully we have these feature shorts programs to reveal other aspects in what Polynesian Society 101 can miss.