When Ann Marie Kirk’s documentary The Hawaiian Room, about the famed Hotel Lexington’s nightspot in New York, opened the 2012 ‘Ōiwi Film Festival, it was missing a key element—actual footage of a Hawaiian Room performance. Last year, Kirk stumbled upon what she was looking for online, held a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the pricey rights, and was able to finally complete the film as she envisioned it.
That final cut screens at this year’s ‘Ōiwi Film Festival, which opens this Friday and runs through Nov. 13. Made with invaluable support from the Hula Preservation Society, the film is a fascinating look at the club—and the people—that put Polynesia in the spotlight for 29 years, starting in 1937.
Kirk, who also is a co-founder of the film festival, was doing online research and came across a film promoting New York City tourism. “I was watching and there it was—I almost fell of my chair. I sent the link to Keau George, who is also doing research on the film, and she said, ‘That’s the Hawaiian Room.’ It’s a treasure, tucked away in some promotional travel film.” She also uncovered an early 1950s episode of the Steve Allen Show that featured Hawaiian Room performers.
Acquiring rights to footage isn’t cheap, and Kirk started a Kickstarter campaign in January to pay for it. She raised $22,000 for the two pieces of footage.
Three weeks ago Kirk held the completed film’s premiere in New York City. “I wanted to make sure that the dancers on the mainland who are still living could see it,” she says. Hawaiian Room alums traveled to Manhattan from across the country. It was a moving reunion.
“Making a film takes over your whole life,” says Kirk. “After more than two years, the film is complete. Now I can move on to other things.”
The Hawaiian Room screens: Saturday, Nov. 8 at 7pm; Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 1pm; and Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:30pm.
Here are images by Sandra Geroux from The Hawaiian Room‘s New York screening and reunion.