Molokai movie premiere
Molokai residents came with
lei and hugs for 'Damien'
Molokai doctors see pride and painBy Mary Adamski
The movie nearly lost its 'Hawaiian heart'
See also: Damien debuts on Molokai
f there were any critics in the house for the United States premiere of "Molokai: The Story of Father Damien," they kept their opinions to themselves.
"It was powerful," said Wayne Puaoi, whose four brothers and nephews were in it.
"We enjoyed it ... we know the story so well," said Roberta Makaiwi.
Dana Kaahahui said: "To use so many people from here, it's excellent."
The grand opening yesterday of the movie filmed last year in Hawaii wasn't heralded with a flashing marque and searchlights slicing the clouds. Neither did the star and director show up in tuxedos nor the invited guests wear glittering jewels.
Australian actor David Wenham, who played Father Damien DeVeuster, and Dutch-Australian director Paul Cox declared themselves delighted with the shorts-and-slippers scene at the premiere in Maunaloa, Molokai.
It was a leis-and-hugs reunion with residents of Kalaupapa who were flown to topside Molokai for the first showing of the movie. They then took actor and director home with them for a party.
But not before everyone in the first audience filed past the VIPs with a new round of hugs and requests for autographs at the end of the two-hour feature film.
More than 200 Molokai residents had parts as extras in the movie produced by ERA Films of Brussels and they couldn't get enough of the show when it finally came to town. Three scheduled showings yesterday were sold out and when the sponsoring Maui Film Festival added a fourth at the 152-seat theater, tickets were gone in seven minutes.
Festival director Barry Rivers arranged a second screening at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center today and at the Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu tomorrow after scheduled benefit performances sold out. The production has not yet been scheduled for commercial distribution in the United States, Rivers said.
The movie is a poetic telling of the story of horror and heroism in the 19th-century leprosy epidemic, squalor against a backdrop of magnificent scenery. Father Damien DeVeuster died of the disease after 16 years of serving victims banished to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula.
The crowd was reminiscent of families assembled at the school play, pointing out familiar faces and murmuring their reminiscences of the filming adventure they shared.
"You're right there on the screen, sweetie," Julie Siegler whispered to Catherine Puahala. The nurse described the action to the blind patient, one of several Kalaupapa residents who, Cox said, gave the movie its heart.
Puahala said a soft "Amen" to a line by Damien: "In this world there are many who have eyes but cannot see."
She was one of about a dozen Hansen's disease patients who overcame their traditional reticence about public appearances to appear as extras. The cameras did not spare viewers the ravages of the disease, and not all they saw was the work of makeup artists.
"I think people will appreciate the realism," said topside Molokai resident Jim Kleeman.
A box of tissues was passed around the cluster of 22 patients and their companions in the crowd. "Kenso," said several in unison at the first sight of Kenso Seki, who joined them as an extra and died the night of the wrap-up party at the age of 86.
Nakoa Kaahanui, 12, said he didn't like the scene where patients were thrown from a ship, many drowning before they reached shore, and that's what he plans to report in the Hawaiian language for his Hawaiian immersion school.
Like most of the audience, he and brother, Kawika, 8, watched for their scene. "Every time we did it was wrong until the last time," Kawika said. They portrayed the family of rancher Rudolph Meyer at dinner and, he recalled, they got to eat the steak and rice at the end of work that night.
"It helped a lot of Molokai people financially," said Frank Kaahanui, who treated the family to Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner after the show. He and his wife, Susan, and children Cassie, 10, Tiare, 8, and Chaz, 4, were extras.
Susan Kaahanui said, "It was exciting ... for the kids."
Molokai residents came with leis and hugs for 'Damien'
Molokai doctors: Spirit,By Mary Adamski
The story of Father Damien DeVeuster's heroic service during the 19th-century leprosy epidemic in Hawaii is history, but the story in the movie is as current as today's headlines, said two viewers.
"We as native Hawaiians are still suffering from serious health conditions even to this day," said Dr. Phillip Reyes.
Dr. Emmett Aluli, a Hawaiian activist, said he saw Father Damien as an activist who still has an effect today. "Patients like Henry Nalaielua and Richard Marks have grown outspoken about their rights."
The physicians are medical directors of Molokai General Hospital, the only hospital on the rural island. The special showings of the movie on three islands this week will benefit the hospital and Na Pu'uwai Inc., a native Hawaiian health care system on Molokai and Lanai, and the Damien Foundation, dedicated to eradicating Hansen's disease worldwide.
"The movie highlighted what tragedies we as a people had to endure," said Reyes. Although the disease struck people of all ethnic groups, a large percentage of the early victims were Hawaiians.
"The patients made a statement allowing themselves to be filmed, for everyone to see just what Hansen's disease has caused," Reyes said.
"I was proud of how they looked," said Aluli, after seeing the movie. "Something so Hawaiian comes through, even as they were disfigured."
Director fought to reviveBy Mary Adamski
movies Hawaiian heart
The movie that Hawaii viewers are seeing this week has been revamped since its European premiere earlier this year, with violence toned down and Hawaiian tone enhanced.
"They made their own film and it didn't work. They ripped the heart out of it ... and now it's back," said director Paul Cox who took producer ERA Films to court in Belgium in an artistic dispute. "Now it's throbbing with Hawaiian heart."
Australian actor David Wenham, who portrays a forceful, youthful Damien, told the Molokai theater crowd: "This is your story, I'm proud this is where we show it for the first time."
Hawaiian chants, hymns and laments are heard in the soundtrack, which was not the case when Kalaupapa residents saw it in Antwerp, said nurse Frances Padeken, one of six who attended the March premiere.
Kalaupapa resident Richard Marks, who has a substantial role, recalled: "In the Belgian showing, the continuity wasn't there, too many short scenes.
"All my words were taken away," he said.
Hilde Eynikel, Flemish author of the Damien biography on which the movie was based, said the movie was well received by the Belgian audiences but panned by the press. "It was too emotional for a lot of people," she said.
"It was a clash of personalities ... a lack of communication between Anglo-Saxons and Belgians." Eynikel said the movie was taken out of distribution in Europe, has been reworked and is being shown to American distributors this week in London.
"The expectations of the producer were not what Paul wanted."
Producer Tharssi Vanhuysse brought a European production crew to Kalaupapa last year and Cox brought Australian cameramen. Clashes between the two men were reported during the filming.