This year, for the first time in its four-year existence, the opening night of HI Sk8 Films sold out. When the lights dimmed in Doris Duke Theatre on Oct. 23, the crowd roared. In the lobby, skateboards poked out from under a table that acted as an impromptu board-check. Atop that table, skate photos and sculptures made by directors and local artists formed a makeshift shrine around a painted board depicting legendary “Z-Boy” Shogo Kubo, who passed away last year. His son and doppelskäter, Shota Kubo, took a moment to appreciate the art before joining the massive posse of Honolulu skaters inside.
Just before lights-out, A‘ala Park Boardshop owner Chad Hiyakumoto snuck onto the stage to snap a crowd shot, then the shorts showcase kicked off with a trailer for Hawai‘i street skating legend Sean Reilly’s upcoming feature, Only This Nothing More. In two minutes, Reilly’s trailer, edited in his trademark staccato style, flashed all the major themes of the evening’s lineup across the screen: skaters sailing down hand railings and hills, blood, party scenes, wipeouts, and an innovative array of skate tricks and guerilla filming tactics.
This year’s submissions came from a broader age group, and gave representation to new island regions. West and Central O‘ahu got some solid exposure through Travis Ota’s film Shmood. The lineup that followed featured a record 12 original films, many of which were produced by showcase veterans like the theater’s skate-savvy staff members Conor McGivern (who co-directed Poi Dog) and Alec Singer (who projected the films that evening, including his own 8mm film Saffron), and Art School assistant Tomoki Kobayashi (director of the meta-documentary Dumb Youth Skate Party). Eight of the other nine directors were present—including the annual event’s first female director, Justine Edwards. Missing was HI Sk8 Films’ first international contributor, Junji Murata, who is based in Japan. Murata’s film Primo Time-O paired footage of a funny Japanese DJ duo selecting and playing jazz records with clips from skate excursions around O‘ahu that he captured during a visit this summer.
Among many bursts of audience approval on opening night, the most deafening cheer came at the end of 808 Skate Shop’s 20-year tribute film X808X, when shop team rider Nate Nahina successfully flipped his skateboard on top of a surfboard while riding a wave at Waikīkī.
That surf/skate hybrid maneuver foreshadows a relationship that kick offs this summer—in 2016, every month will have a theme at Doris Duke Theatre, and July brings Surf + Skate Cinema. All month patrons will get to pack the house to double-dip in the cinematic art of all the islands’ board-riding cultures when the theater presents the Honolulu Surf Film Festival and HI Sk8 Films (again!).
On the morning after opening night, I, along with Conor and Alec reconvened at the theater for a new addition to HiSk8 Films—a skate filmmaking workshop. Although only one of the 12 people who registered showed up, the exercise revealed ways that the theater’s projectors, laptops and big screen can be used to collaborate and educate via editing projects. More education came through HI Sk8 Films 2015’s additional Sunday night programming, which included a short by Hawai‘i filmmaker Jonathan Brousseau about China’s growing skate scene, followed by a full-length documentary about South African skater Thalente, who left his life in the streets of Durban to try to make it big street skating in Los Angeles.
Like Thalente, skaters in Hawai‘i are usually looking outward from the islands—through magazines, websites, and social media—to keep up with “what’s in” in skating. Thanks to the museum’s faith in that isolated community, the skaters have HI Sk8 Films, a chance to look inward and get stoked about what’s happening on the cracked sidewalks all around the islands.
One skater summed up that feeling on Instagram after the opening-night festivities: “Unlike this empty bus ride home, the Hawai‘i skate community is truly something. Sold out show at the Honolulu Museum of Art showcasing Hawai‘i skateboarding tonight! Pretty rad stuff!! #thankyouskateboarding.”