If you’ve attended a film at the Doris Duke Theatre in the past year, you may have noticed a change—films now come with an introduction by the projectionist (there are 9 of them in rotation). In the past, such duties were reserved for the film curator, theater manager, or a visiting specialist. The change helps contextualize films for the viewers, while offering projectionists a chance to connect with audiences.
“It adds a bit of a human dimension,” said part-time projectionist Mark Hukill as we sat down to chat last week in the newly renovated Central Courtyard. “It’s just great fun. I enjoy every minute of it.” While some of the younger projectionists have had to conquer public speaking fears, Hukill said, “I have no problem getting in front of audiences that way, as a former professor I was often in front of hundreds of students.”
For this technical wiz, duties at the Doris Duke Theatre are a fun diversion from his communications consultancy firm (lucky for us!). When Hukill joined the theatre in 2013, I was working as a projectionist, and I quickly found that behind his sharp blue eyes lay a honed, authoritative knowledge of all things technological. On one shift, a cooling fan broke down and the projector started cooking. Fortunately Hukill was around and he rigged up a system of external fans to draw heat out of the machine. He’s an excellent troubleshooter.
“I’ve witnessed the complete transformation into the digital age over the course of my career, and it’s really fun to keep up with that,” Hukill explained, adding that, “the theater’s new DCP system is great fun…and I’ve been doing a lot to improve the quality and creativity of the use of the lights to meet the demands of performers.” (He was a quick study of the complex light cues for the recent D’Arranged Marriage production.)
As Hukill caught me up on his latest efforts in the theater, I took the opportunity to find out more about his accomplished past. In his characteristically humble style of speaking, interspersed with bashful chuckles, he opened up about how he landed here at the museum two years ago.
Hukill’s wide range of expertise goes back to his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he studied radio, television, and film. Upon graduating in 1978, he went straight to work.
“I was actually recruited into the Peace Corps through a special arrangement they had through the State Department and with the Republic of Niger,” Hukill said, “which was just starting a national broadcasting system in the country. They were looking for trainers, through the Coopération,” the French equivalent of the United States Agency for International Development. “Then I got involved with several of the NGOs there, including Lutheran World Relief, World Wildlife Fund—now the World Wide Fund for Nature—National Geographic, and others,” he said.
By 1983, Hukill, based in Niamey, Niger, had developed news features and news documentaries in Niger, trained crew members from emerging broadcasting companies around West Africa, and traveled around the world with the president of Niger while training his personal film crew.
Then one day he threw a dart at a map on the wall of his home. It landed on Hawai‘i. He enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i’s budding school of communications, which he helped to develop. By 1990 he had his Ph.D., focused on telecommunications systems in Southeast Asia.
“For my research there I traveled throughout Southeast Asia—Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I did a lot of work with people in each of those countries,” Hukill said. The connections he made in that region led to a teaching appointment at a newly established school of communications at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which lasted for ten years and culminated with a position as head of the electronic and broadcast media division there.
Upon returning to Hawai‘i in 2000, Hukill fell into teaching as an associate professor and associate interim dean at UH. In 2008, when he had had enough of teaching, he started his own communications consultancy firm, which he tends to when he isn’t perched in the theater’s booth. To Hukill, it’s a cozy nest of projectors, film reels, and audio monitors.
For all his international telecom experience, Hukill says that film curator Abbie Algar and theater manager Taylour Chang haven’t needed much coaching. “To see what Taylour and Abbie are doing to evolve the theatre and build up audiences and constituencies in different areas is amazing,” he said. “They’ve done an outstanding job. To see the different groups of people, performers, films and film festivals, and concerts that are coming into the theater and filling the house—it’s just really fun to be a part of that.”