Sundance Institute and the Honolulu Museum of Art joined forces to hold the first Sundance Native Shorts Lab May 14 to 16. Five local talents were selected to participate in the three-day screenwriting workshop designed for aspiring Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander filmmakers. Hale Mawae, Kari Noe, Bryson Chun, Scott W. Kekama Amona, and Kaliko Ma‘i‘i developed short-film scripts under the guidance of their peers, Sundance Institute’s Native and Indigenous program director Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute staff Maya Solis, and Adam Piron, and creative advisors—and Sundance Film Festival alumni—Danis Goulet and Lucas Leyva. (Pictured above are, from left to right: Kari Noe, Kaliko Ma‘i‘i, Nani Rían Kenna Ross, Scott W. Kekama Amona, Bird Runningwater, Bryson Chun, and Hale Mawae)

During their stay, the Sundance Institute team did some outreach work, visiting Waianae High School’s lauded Searider Productions and Kamehameha Schools’ digital media program.

Upon arrival at Kamehameha, the group was warned by Kumu Leah Kihara that her students were shy, and the instructors might have to get the ball rolling when it came to question-and-answer time.

Leyva and Goulet screened their shorts for the students and called for questions—and hands immediately shot up. “I noticed that the protagonist’s flashlight tended to draw my eye in many of the scenes. Was that intentional?” asked sophomore Noah K L Nunokawa about Goulet’s film. Goulet glanced at Leyva as if to say, “Well, I guess these kids aren’t as shy as we thought!” Then told the perceptive Nunokawa that the flashlight was indeed deliberately used to draw the viewers attention to a particular area of the shot.

Nunokawa doesn't hesitate to engage with the guest speakers

Nunokawa doesn’t hesitate to engage with the guest speakers

“It’s difficult to find my own inspiration for stories,” said fellow sophomore Darienne Kealoha. “I find it easier to just build off and branch off of one of my friend’s ideas. Do you have any advice as to how I might find my own inspiration?”

“There’s nothing wrong with ripping people off,” said Leyva, prompting a laugh from the students. “Obviously you don’t want to go out and straight up plagiarize someone, but even if you set out to emulate a certain kind of story you’ll find that it will contain your own unique voice.”

The Lab was actually the museum’s education lecture hall located beneath Palm Courtyard, where the five Fellows met for three days to get support and guidance from the Institute mentors and each other on scripts they had submitted to Sundance Institute in February. Though the Lab ended on May 16, the Fellows plan to continue to support one another on their projects.

“We are all looking forward to contributing to the already thriving filmmaking and artistic community here in Hawai’i,” said Native Lab Fellow Scott Kekama Amona. “We hope to help each other produce our films and help other filmmakers and artists tell their stories to a local and worldwide audience.”

And it’s not idle talk—they already have a plan worked out. “We really want to help each others’ films progress, and we’ll continue to be support for one another moving forward,” said Hale Mawae. “We also want to create a film collective where we can meet up regularly to check in with each other. It would be a safe place to share our rewrites and help each other see our films through to the end.”

This program is made possible with the generous support of Linda and Robert Nichols. Travel and hospitality support provided by Hawaiian Airlines and THE MODERN HONOLULU.