A year ago the Honolulu Museum of Art teamed up with the Sundance Institute to present the first Sundance ShortsLab: Honolulu, a free community event aimed at informing and inspiring Hawai‘i’s growing body of filmmakers. Impressed by the turnout—and by an outreach visit to Wai‘anae High School’s Searider Productions program—the Institute again joins forces with the museum to hold the first Native Shorts Lab. The program is made possible with the generous support of Linda and Robert Nichols, with travel and hospitality support provided by Hawaiian Airlines and The Modern Honolulu.
In March, Sundance Institute held an online open call for submissions, which called for a 15-page script. From that pool of applications, Sundance staff selected five talented aspiring filmmakers—Hale Mawae, Kari Noe, Bryson Chun, Scott W. Kekama Amona, and Kaliko Ma‘i‘i.
On May 12, the museum kicks off the program with a reception and free screening of short films by Sundance alumni and advisors Danis Goulet and Lucas Leyva. The public is welcome to attend this free event.
Then from May 14 to 16, the lab fellows will undergo a rigorous three-day story-focused Native Shorts Lab. In the workshops, they’ll strengthen their stories and hone the voices through which they are told. Previous fellows Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals), Taika Waititi (Boy), and local boy Ty Sanga (Stones) have had their films go on to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“The primary goal for this story-focused writers lab at the Honolulu Museum of Art is to provide support and mentorship in the craft of screenwriting to Kanaka Maoli artists,” says N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache), director, Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Film Program. “In this way, we can nurture and protect the artists’ original and authentic voices and help make it possible for them to bring their unique Indigenous perspectives and stories to the world—stories that may have otherwise gone untold.”
While the application and selection process for the lab is competitive, says Runningwater, is also designed to be encouraging. “We make a substantial effort at the front-end to reaching out to young and aspiring artists in their communities. All five of the writers who are participating in this year’s lab show tremendous motivation and passion for their writing, possess strong writing skills, and also have clear goals for their future as screenwriters.”
We asked each of the fellows to provide a short biography and tell us what being part of this year’s Sundance Native Shorts Lab means to them. Here’s what they shared:
Originally from Kaua‘i, Hale Mawae graduated with honors from the actor training conservatory program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood in 2004. He returned home in 2006 to work alongside his Native Hawaiian community developing theater arts programs for Native Hawaiian public charter schools. In 2011, he co-wrote Until the Sunsets, his first short film in the Hawaiian language, while working behind the scenes in Honolulu on various film and television productions. The film went on to screen at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, and many others.
“This Sundance Native Lab gives me an opportunity to have my voice heard and I am excited to hone my skills as a writer with equally talented and successful writers of the Lab. As a Hawaiian filmmaker I think this Lab will really help us break down barriers and build a forefront for Hawaiian film-making.”
Bryson Chun has produced a wide array of award-winning short film projects, including the film No More Aloha, which screened at the 2015 Raindance Film Festival in London. He was a producer on the healthcare documentary feature ‘Ike: Knowledge is Everywhere, which premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival and just ended its run of more than 100 screenings with a PBS broadcast. He is currently writing a Hawai‘i-based feature film and developing a podcast about Native Hawaiian legends and folklore.
“It is amazing that an organization as prestigious as the Sundance Institute recognizes the value in discovering and promoting indigenous voices. I am honored to be a part of such an outstanding opportunity and humbled to join the ranks of the other distinguished Sundance Lab fellows.”
Kari Noe is an Academy of Creative Media and Computer Science double major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She was born and raised on Kaua‘i. She loves to work both the creative and technical sides of her brain, and is interested in animation and computer graphics. In her free time, Noe likes to draw, animate, and create video games.
“I am excited to be a part of the Sundance Native Lab because it means I have the opportunity to learn from other indigenous filmmakers and see how they go about taking their own experiences and culture to create meaningful and entertaining films.”
Scott W. Kekama Amona
An Oʻahu-born Native Hawaiian filmmaker, Scott Amona is a recent graduate of the Academy for Creative Media. He was influenced to tell stories in film about Hawaiʻi and the Pacific by his Kauaʻi-born mother Lydia Emma Kaha‘ipi‘ilani Miller and his Oʻahu-born father William Ko‘omealani Amona. He taught language arts and visual media at a Hawaiian charter school for 12 years, and holds a B.A. in Digital Cinema, a B.A. in Psychology, and an M.A. in Special Education. Amona is currently finishing production on an English and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi short narrative he wrote with his partner, Nani Rían Kenna Ross, titled Kaikuaʻana that is inspired by the love triangle moʻolelo about Pele, Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, and Lohiau.
“I am looking forward to learning how my writing partner, Nani Ross, and I can improve our current screenplay before we start production, and I am looking forward to meeting the other Sundance Native Lab participants, hearing about their stories, and creating a stronger filmmaking community here in Hawaiʻi.”
As a child Kaliko Ma‘i‘i attended the Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Anuenue Hawaiian immersion school, where he fell in love with Hawaiian stories told in their native voice. He first started using video cameras to tell stories in middle school, and that exposure led to the realization that when Hawaiians were depicted on television and film, they were usually misrepresented. This sparked his desire to tell Hawaiian stories through an authentic Hawaiian voice. In college Ma‘i‘i took courses in creative writing and film, and since graduating has worked in the film industry for the past ten years. He is excited to return to the reason why he began this journey: to make Hawaiian films that Hawaiians can relate to.
“For Sundance to bring its lab to Hawai‘i speaks volumes about their continued support and dedication to Hawaiian filmmakers. I look forward to working with the mentors on my script. I also look forward to meeting the other fellows and seeing all of these scripts turned into short films. A workshop like this can have positive outcomes for Hawai‘i and for the Native Hawaiian community.”
Pictured at top, clockwise from top left: Kaliko Ma‘i‘i, Bryson Chun, Hale Mawae, Kari Noe, and Scott Amona.