Going to a film festival as a member of a jury is different from going as a journalist: You get better treatment, for one thing. As the chairman of the jury for the NETPAC Award at the 39th Hawaii International Film Festival (Nov. 7-17), I stayed at the Halekulani, a five-star hotel on Waikiki Beach and a festival sponsor. Walking in, I never wanted to leave; not the right mindset for someone expected to report on the festival, not the excellent Hawaiian coffee served by the hotel pool.
But I stirred off my lounge chair to the Regal Dole Cannery — a mall multiplex that was the festival venue – where I explored HIFF’s eclectic line-up with its focus on the Asia-Pacific.
Among the Japanese films screened was 37 Seconds, the first feature by single-named filmmaker Hikari. Recipient of the Kau Ka Hōkū Filmmaker Award, the festival’s main prize, the film centres on a young manga artist (Mei Kayama) who refuses to let her cerebral palsy keep her from exploring her creativity, her sexuality – and the world. Filmed with a docudrama-like realism, 37 Seconds is a stirring drama of human potential and persistence.
The winner of our NETPAC award for an emerging Asian filmmaker was Another Child, Korean actor-director Kim Yoon-seok’s debut feature about two teenaged girls who are high school classmates - and discover that the father of one is having an affair with the single mother of another. When the mother becomes pregnant she decides to have her lover’s child over her daughter’s strenuous objections.
The opening scenes hint at comedy, but the film goes instead for explosive, all-in drama as the girls wrestle with their feelings about their cheating parents and about each other. The performances of the two young leads, Kim Hye-jun and Park Se-jin, are outstanding in their focus and realism.
In the eight-film NETPAC selection I also quite liked My Father’s Kingdom, New Zealand filmmaker Vea Mafile’o’s intimately revealing documentary about her native Tongan father, who long ago left his white New Zealand wife and their children to live in Tonga and contribute large chunks of his income to his church. In interviews, the left-behind siblings frankly express their puzzlement and disappointment at his priorities, but when they reunite with their father in Tonga they – and we – gain a clearer, more sympathetic understanding of his strong ties to church and community, deeply rooted in traditional Tongan culture.
Similarly revelatory was Pacific Showcase Shorts, a programme of short films by Pacific filmmakers. Among my favorites was Our Atoll Speaks, Gemma Cubero Del Barrio’s documentary about the people of Pukupuku, a coral atoll in the Cook Island group. Counter-posed with idyllic shots of lush vegetation and children frolicking in the surf is an in-depth portrait of a community in crisis as rising sea levels threaten their existence. The director and her crew spent months on Pukapuka filming and engaging with the islanders – and their dedication shows.
Another was Ta Moko – Behind the Tattooed Face, Mick Andrews and David Atkinson’s documentary short about the Maori face tattoo or ta moko. It records a Maori man and woman getting their own ta moko – a tradition once in danger of extinction – with members of their community lending support. To this outsider, the process looks painful but when it is finished the newly tattooed rise up looking reborn, a moment intense and mysterious. A moment that exemplifies why, in its 39th edition, HIFF is still different and special.
-- Mark Schilling (Japan) Chairperson of the NETPAC Jury