[ HIFF 2003 COVERAGE ]
HAWAI'I INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL|
Scott Davis plays a surfer who travels in time to 1911 Hawaii, where he meets a young woman played by Mary Paalani.
Filmmaker Nathan Kurosawa
explores the true spirit of surfing
It took Nathan Kurosawa an extra year to finish, but "The Ride" will finally debut this weekend at the Hawaii International Film Festival.
It will be a particularly auspicious and aptly located debut, projected on the big screen at Queen's Surf on the beach at Waikiki as part of a city-sponsored Sunset on the Beach event.
It's the perfect setting for Kurosawa's locally made family film about a young man from the present who learns a valuable lesson from an important figure in the past.
"I wanted to take a character, a professional surfer, who is very into money and fame," Kurosawa said Friday afternoon. "And by traveling back in time due to a near drowning during a surf contest, he's rescued by a young Duke Kahanamoku, as he was back in 1911.
Screens at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sunset on the Beach at Queen's Surf in Waikiki, and at 8:30 p.m. next Monday at the Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts
"I find it easier to work with nonprofessional actors because, one, I'm not dealing with egos and, two, because of that, they listen better to your instructions. And since they were all local, they knew exactly what we were going for."
Director, "The Ride"
"It's through Duke that the surfer learns the true spirit of surfing, that it's not just a competitive sport with all of its negative connotations."
"The Ride" is Kurosawa's second project to hit the local screen this year. Late last month at the Cinema Paradise Island Independent Film Festival, he won the festival's first Hale Ki'oni'oni award (with a cash prize of $5,000) for his fine short subject "Kamehameha."
Kurosawa is also no stranger to HIFF, and has steadily raising the bar for local productions, film by film. In 1996 he won the Audience Award for Best Short Subject for "Kadomatsu," about a local Japanese father struggling to come to terms with his son's death.
It's remarkable to note that Kurosawa had already started shooting "The Ride" in May of 2001 when he began shooting "Kamehameha" in remote areas in and around North Kohala. He dutifully traveled between Hawaii and Los Angeles (where he lived at the time -- he moved back here in June 2002), coordinating crew and cast schedules.
During the months of production on both films, Kurosawa made it a point to foster an atmosphere of trust and creative cooperation on his sets.
"Something like 'Kamehameha' was a real community effort," he said, "thanks to the cultural and spiritual foundation we had in kupuna Marie Solomon. She was the family genealogist of the Nae'o'le line, the family who raised Kamehameha to about 5, 6 years of age in Kohala." These are the years his short film focuses on.
He said everyone in the community directed him to Solomon. "When I finally met her, she was somewhat reluctant to tell those stories to me because there was a lot of kapu and tradition around them."
But Kurosawa gained her trust by videotaping her telling the stories of the Nae'o'le lineage that dates to Tahiti, for her own family. After presenting her with the completed tape, she, in turn, shared the Kamehameha stories with him. "And because of her credibility, the community pulled together to help make the film."
HAWAI'I INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL|
Davis, the modern-day surfer called "Ghost," encounters a young Duke Kahanamoku (Sean Kaawa), who instructs him in the roots of his sport. This involves surfing with a 100-pound board.
FOR "THE RIDE," it was always Kurosawa's intention to do a surf-themed film with a local cast and crew. His executive producer, Wesley Nakamoto, a Waipahu resident who made his money on real estate holdings in Alaska, was willing to invest.
"It was just serendipity in the timing as well," Kurosawa said. "There was a pending Screen Actors Guild and writers strike in Los Angeles, so no one was working here." Kurosawa was able to assemble crew members who all agreed to defer their pay, even though they had worked on such major Hollywood films as "Pearl Harbor" and "Windtalkers."
"The Ride" was made specifically as a family film in the hope that it could be shopped around to network and cable television interests.
Kurosawa held casting calls in Los Angeles for the lead surfer role. When he thought he had finally found his David, he started casting here for local roles. "But when Scott Davis, a University of Hawaii drama student at the time, did a cold read for me, it just blew me away. He would make the perfect David. And when I saw him and Mary Paalani act together, and saw that they had a chemistry; I knew I had my two leads."
Kurosawa believes he was able to get convincing work out of Paalani, who had only done some local print modeling and TV commercial work prior to making the film, and Sean Kaawa, as young Kahanamoku.
"That character was the hardest to fill during the auditions -- until a friend of mine told me that 'I have your Duke.' When I finally saw Sean, he certainly looked the part, but his demeanor was super-humble, super-quiet. It was not the best audition I saw, but I knew I could coach him in his acting. And through all of the rehearsals ... I think Sean in particular did very well and will surprise a lot of people with his performance.
"I find it easier to work with nonprofessional actors because, one, I'm not dealing with egos and, two, because of that, they listen better to your instructions. And since they were all local, they knew exactly what we were going for. Everyone was on the same page, and it just jelled. Plus, it was a fun shoot during the 17 days of principal photography, and we even hung out together after work. I think that spirit will show on the screen, as well."
KUROSAWA hasn't been able to work with a big budget yet, so he's accustomed to working pragmatically. Because of this, he has high regard for his cast and crew's ability to create something out of nothing.
"The look of Hawaii in 1911 was important to get right, even under such a limited budget. So I have to thank professionals like production designer Rick Romer for re-creating the Moana Hotel interior, costume designer Cathie Valbovino, prop master Alvin Cabrinha, and vintage surfboard collector Jay Behrens, who did research at the Bishop Museum and crafted these 100-pound-plus surfboards that we used."
His director of photography, Ron Condon, also worked on "Kamehameha" but was especially helpful on "The Ride" because of his credentials as a water cinematographer. Kurosawa also made appropriate changes in shooting and editing styles in assembling the film. "The contemporary scenes shot in Huntington Beach, Calif., were quicker in pace and shot, while I emphasized long, slow, fluid camera moves for the 1911 feel."
And just as he received help from the late Marie Solomon on "Kamehameha," Kurosawa got needed help from some important people for "The Ride."
"I got a lot of support from our water safety guy, Brian Keaulana. Because of his standing in the surfing community, we could do whatever we needed and wanted. He definitely pulled some strings, so I'm indebted to him. Henry Ayau, Duke's friend and part of his foundation, played Duke's father in the film, and unfortunately, he has since passed away, so the film's in memory of him. Plus, family member Wendell Pitcomb was also an important contact for us."
With both films completed, Kurosawa feels even more strongly that locally produced and shot, grass-roots films can and should be done.
"I want my films to be 99 percent homegrown. When people see what I've done, they're often surprised by the high production value. So that just shows me that we can utilize local people for films that are not just documentaries or TV shows."
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