The 41st edition of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival (HIFF) unveiled their jury winners which included Christopher Makoto Yogi‘s I Was As Simple Man and Bradley Tangonan‘s short River of Small Gods.
Now in its fifth year, the Made In Hawai‘i Film awards focus on the growing dynamic local independent film scene that strives onward in the Hawaiian Islands. Fiction, Non-fiction and short films that are made by locally-based filmmakers or involve locally-based stories are eligible for the Best Made In Hawai‘i Award. which comes with cash prizes supported by the Nichols Family Film Fund.
This year’s Best Made In Hawai‘i Feature winner is I Was A Simple Man, a languorous and haunting character study that intertwines personal and historical traumas across the sweep of Hawai‘i’s long 20th century.
The jury shared: “We are honored to present the Made In Hawai‘i Award for Best Feature to, I Was A Simple Man, written and directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi. A tender, haunting meditation on how we live and die, this film was bold, ambitious, and risk-taking – yet still, it felt like home, invoking nostalgic memories of our childhoods, through familiar details nested in the midst of gorgeous cinematography, meticulous “Am I in my grandma’s house?” production design, stirring score, and skilled sound design – all carried by a deeply-felt breakout performance from lead actor Steve Iwamoto. Yogi conjures a striking portrait of Hawai‘i that plays with the bounds of memory and temporality, collapsing time until past and present are joined, to compelling effect. The film’s gentle rhythms and delicate touch belie the forcefulness of the work and the incisive vision of its creator.”
The Made In Hawai‘i jury also recognized Waterman, directed by Isaac Halasima, with an Honorable Mention.
The jury shared: “We are pleased to present an Honorable Mention in the Made In Hawai‘i feature film category to Waterman, a documentary by Isaac Halasima. With skillful narration by Jason Momoa, this film tells the incredible story of the kanaka maoli trailblazer and international sports superstar Duke Kahanamoku, who overcame the many obstacles facing indigenous athletes, and went on to shatter world records, break racial barriers, and leave an indelible mark on Hawai‘i – and the world. We commend the film’s contribution to the all-too-slim canon on this legendary icon of sports, and we hope that this film will pave the way for more stories to be told about the Duke and other groundbreaking, yet under-recognized, kanaka maoli athletes like him, in all the complexities of their experiences.”
The award for Best Made In Hawai‘i Short went to River of Small Gods, a modern myth set on the island of O‘ahu about a Hawaiian woman who is hired by a mysterious sculptor to take sacred stones from a riverbed.
The jury shared: “We are thrilled to present the Made In Hawai‘i Award for Best Short Film to River of Small Gods written and directed by Bradley Tangonan. Led by a standout performance from the returning HIFF star Danielle Zalopany, this short immediately hooked us, reeled us in, then left us wanting more. Its subtle yet resonant commentary on displacement, class, aloha ‘āina, and Hawai‘i’s housing crisis threaded through a propulsive narrative concisely and evocatively rendered in just over fifteen minutes. Tangonan’s excellent film – bolstered by exquisite cinematography, chilling sound design, and the luminous talent of its lead actress – received resounding acclaim from the members of the jury. We hope to see more stories from this brilliant filmmaker on our screens soon!”
HIFF also awarded a special award for impact in filmmaking to Mitchel Merrick for his short film Ka Ho’i in honor of his continued creativity, commitment to and perseverance in independent film in Hawai’i.
The Kau Ka Hōkū (Shooting Star) Award is awarded to an international emerging filmmaker (first or second feature film). Both fiction and non-fiction feature films are nominated by the festival programmers and adjudicated by an international jury. This year’s Kau Ka Hōkū Award Grand Jury Award winner is Dark Red Forest directed by Jin Huaqing; a rare and lengthy glimpse into a community that is often politically shrouded and even “left behind” in a rapidly contemporizing China.
The jury shared “Dark Red Forest is a visually stunning film of meditative rigor. A community of thousands of dark, red-cloaked nuns on a Tibetan plain is captured with striking spareness, stripped of everything but the essence of life and death. Transcending the political, Jin Huaqing’s documentary is a quiet, steely work of art. We were struck by the breadth of heart and vision of the Kau Ka Hoku nominees, encompassing themes of diaspora, environmental challenge, exclusion, and belonging.”
The jury also recognized the following films with Honorable Mentions: Ten Months, directed by Namkoong Sun; Moneyboys, directed by C.B. Yi; I Was a Simple Man, directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi
When it came to short films, 35 were selected by the programming committee to compete for the HIFF Best Short Film Award. This year’s lineup included stories from all over the globe, including Australia, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan, as well as strong representation from Hawai‘i and Pasifika-made films culled from Made in Hawai‘i and Pacific Showcase shorts programs. This year’s HIFF Best Short Film Award winner went to Casually, For The Worse, directed by Kim Ye-won.
The jury shared: “Casually, For The Worse stunning visual storytelling creates meaningful, intense, and tense silent spaces that at times grip and shout louder than words as the main characters navigate and are made aware of their own identities and orientations.”
The jury also recognized the following films with Honorable Mentions: Kalinga (Care), a short documentary film directed by Kent Donguines; and In The Shadows of the Pines, an animated short film directed by Anne Koizumi.
The Network for the Promotion of Asian-Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting Asian and Pacific film throughout the world. The NETPAC award is given at select international film festivals to promote Asian and Pacific cinema by spotlighting exceptional works and discovering new talent. The NETPAC award is presented annually at international film festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Rotterdam, Busan, Singapore, Taiwan, Yamagata, Amiens and Hawaii. HIFF is the only film festival in the United States given permission to present the NETPAC award.
This year’s NETPAC/USA Award Winner went to Anima, directed by first-team feature director Cao Jinling of the Peopleʻs Republic of China. Anima is a moving story of man versus nature, told from the worldview of caring for the earth through the eyes of an Indigenous Ewenki family in inner Mongolia.
The jury shared “The jury was simply stunned by this ambitious, powerfully moving story of man v. nature. Cao immerses modern audiences in this much-needed worldview of caring for the earth, through her epic environmental-survival tale about two brothers from an Ewenki family and their evolving relationship with the breathtaking landscape of their Inner Mongolia home.”
The 2021 NETPAC Jurors are: NETPAC member and former HIFF founding member Didi Chang, programmer (BIFAN) and managing director of Network of Asian Fantastic Films Thomas Nam, and assistant professor of science fiction film at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ida Yoshinaga.
The 2021 HIFF Made In Hawai‘i Jurors are: entertainment executive Kaliko Hurley (Sr. Manager, D&I Content & Culture Strategies at Walt Disney Animation Studios), actor/writer/director Sarah Wayne Callies (Fox’s Prison Break; AMC’s The Walking Dead; Aftershock podcast), and writer/director Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence (Lena Waithe’s Twenties; Boomerang)
The Kau Ka Hōkū Jurors include actor/director Justin Chon (Blue Bayou, Good), Playwright and screenwriter Susan Soon He Stanton (HBO’s Succession) and producer Simone Ling (Mosquita Y Mari).
The HIFF Short Film Jurors include Vera Zambonelli (Executive Director, Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking), actor Henry Ian Cusick (ABC’s Lost), and Dasha Khailova (Animation Producer and Talent Manager, Netflix).
According to Hawaiian tradition, the maile lei is often reserved for the most memorable occasions. It is known as the ‘lei of royalty’ given to signify respect and honor. The HIFF Golden Maile Award for Career Achievement is bestowed to an artist who has reached the career pinnacles very few have achieved via industry awards and accolades and a body of work that is known globally. Past recipients include Masato Harada, Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Cheung, and Wong Kar Wai. As previously announced, the HIFF41 Halekulani Golden Maile For Career Achievement Award was presented to Hawai‘i’s own Destin Daniel Cretton, known for directing the first Asian-fronted Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as well as critically acclaimed films Just Mercy and Short Term 12.
The HIFF Legacy Award, which was first given in 2020, honors a creative content creator with a close connection to Hawai‘i, either as a kama‘aina or close ties to the islands and its unique multiethnic communities. The honoree can be a filmmaker, actor, producer or content creator who navigates mainstream media, is multi-faceted and be impactful in their creative contribution with years of experience in inspiring storytellers, past, present and future. The HIFF41 Legacy Award was presented to writer/director Albert Pyun. Albert Pyun is a writer/director best known for his contributions to cult movie making during the heyday of the direct-to-video and B-movie circuits of the 1980s through the 2000s. He is credited with pioneering the cyborg sub-genre and is considered to be a maverick and renegade in independent genre cinema. With over 50 titles to his name, he has enjoyed a prolific career spanning 30+ years and has earned himself a fevered cult following.
The Hawaii International Film Festival’s Halekulani Maverick Award is given to an international cinema artist who has a unique and eclectic career trajectory, contributing to international cinema and the filmed arts in an innovative way. This maverick does things on his or her terms, creating work that can have a rabid cult following to a mass appreciation in today’s pop culture. Like a trendsetter and tastemaker, their work may not have been appreciated early on, but has become an artistic benchmark. The HIFF41 Halekulani Maverick Award will be presented to Sterlin Harjo, created the hit FX series Reservation Dogs alongside Taika Waititi. He also directed the Sundance features Four Sheets to the Wind, Barking Water and This May Be The Last Time. Harjo, who is a member of the Seminole Nation and has Muskogee heritage, is a founding member of a five-member Native American comedy group, The 1491s. He was recently appointed to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His latest documentary, Love and Fury was part of the HIFF41 film lineup.
The PIC Trailblazer Award, presented by Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), is given to a cinema artist of Pacific Islander heritage who broadens the scope of Pacific Islander stories onto the world stage, producing award winning work in independent and global cinema. This honoree is a true trailblazer, whose work aligns with PIC’s mission, which is to support, advance, and develop Pacific Island media content and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history, culture, and contemporary challenges. The 2021 PIC Trailblazer Award was presented to Dana Ledoux Miller, who is currently co-showrunning Netflix’s limited series, Rescue, Previously, she was an Executive Producer on Last Resort for Seven Bucks Productions and Feigco Entertainment and set up at Quibi as a part of their “Break The Room” initiative. She was Co-EP on AMC’s Kevin Can Go F*ck Himself and the supervising producer on AMC’s Lodge 49. She is also adapting Cosmology Monsters for Chernin with Destin Daniel Cretton attached to direct. She was a producer on ABC’s Designated Survivor and also wrote for Netflix’s Narcos and HBO’s The Newsroom.
The Audience Awards for Favorite Narrative Feature, Documentary and Short Film will be announced on Tuesday, November 16.
Although the Oahu in-person festival ends, HIFF continues its Festival run with in-person screenings on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island of Hawai‘i from November 18-21 including in-person screenings of HIFF Galas of the aforementioned Waterman and I Was A Simple Man as well as Belle. For the full Neighbor Island schedule, click here.