As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month comes to a close, we’re highlighting a selection of groundbreaking indigenous Pacific Islander film and media makers to watch. These filmmakers represent a vibrant cross section of storytellers who meld tradition, activism, and stunning visual style to carve out a distinct Pacific Islander voice.
Kapaemahu, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is a Kānaka Maoli activist, teacher, community leader, and filmmaker whose work navigates the intersection of her traditional māhū, or third gender identity, and life as a transgender woman. The 2014 film Kumu Hina (2014) documents Wong-Kalu’s personal life over the course of a year, in particular her mentorship of a young student who aspires to become the leader of her school's all-male hula troupe. She co-directed the short film Lady Eva and the feature-length doc Leitis in Waiting (2017) about transgender rights in the Kingdom of Tonga. Her animated short Kapaemahu illuminates the legend of four māhū who brought healing arts from Tahiti to Hawai’i. Kapaemahu premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where it received a special jury mention and was shortlisted for Best Short Animated Film at this year’s Academy Awards.
Lieweila, Cinta Kaipat
Cinta Kaipat is a Refaluwash-Chamorro filmmaker, attorney, and former Congresswoman whose work advocates for US military divestment and Pacifc Island sovereignty. Her first film, Lieweila: A Micronesian Story (1998), is a personal documentary about her family and the culture and history of the Refarawasch people (also known as the Carolinians) living in the Northern Mariana Islands. Lieweila means “listen to our story,” a sentiment that ties together her activism and filmmaking. Since 2016, Cinat has been co-writing, -producing, and -directing the documentary film Too Beautiful to Bomb about the proposed US militarization and forced displacement of the Mariana Islands, particularly Tinian and Pågan, to use as bombing ranges.
Waikiki, Christopher Kahunahana
Christopher Kahunahana’s Waikiki (2020) is a searing portrait of class struggle and indigenous identity against a backdrop of many Waikīkīs—a tourist’s paradise, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and the land itself. When Kea, a teacher, hula dancer, and karaoke hostess, accidentally hits a homeless man, Wo, with her van, they become conjoined in a journey of discovery and survival. The film’s characters draw inspiration from Kahunahana’s decade-long tenure as the owner of bar/art gallery NextDoor in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Waikiki premiered at the Hawai’i International Film Festival this year where it won a jury award for Best Cinematography. Kahunahana is a Sundance Institute Native Lab fellow and the founder of 4th World Film productions.
Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, Hepi Mita
Director Hepi Mita’s Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen (2018) is an intimate, personal documentary about his mother, Merata Mita, the iconic film archivist, filmmaker, and Māori activist. As the first woman from an indigenous nation to direct a feature length film, Merata is often credited as the “godmother of indigenous cinema.” Her enduring legacy of “decolonizing and indigenizing cinema” is lovingly captured through archival footage, family interviews, and testimonials from filmmakers like Taika Waititi. Merata premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is available on Netflix.
Blackbird, Amie Batalibasi
Australian-Solomon Islander writer, director and producer Amie Batalibasi explores history and cultural identity in close collaboration with local communities. Her short film Blackbird (2016), inspired by her own family history, follows two Solomon Island siblings who are kidnapped and enslaved on a Queensland sugar plantation in the 1800s. Blackbird and her film Tide of Change, about rising sea levels in her family’s home of Malaita, Solomon Islands, have screened at the Berlinale International Film Festival, among others. Amie is also the recipient of Sundance’s prestigious Merata Mita Fellowship and was selected to attend the Berlinale Talent Summit 2018 and the Toronto International Film Festival’s Filmmaker Lab. She is currently at work on a feature-length version of Blackbird.
Our commitment to racial and gender equity means that we’re always asking the questions, whose voice and perspective is missing? BAYCAT Recommends is a discerning finger on the pulse of a new film and media industry, where diverse voices and perspectives are always centered and celebrated.