Hawaiian activist George Helm Jr., shown at left in this 1970s photo, has inspired many youths -- and now, a movie.
Film on George
Helm Jr. nears reality
A movie inspired by the
Hawaiian activist will examine
the Kahoolawe struggle
After years of research and months of discussions with Hawaiian leaders and family members of one of the state's best-known political activists, a motion picture inspired by the life of George Helm Jr. could begin production as early as next spring, with the theatrical release possibly before year's end.
Producer Gary Foster and screenwriter Dana Gluckstein, who has written "The George Helm Jr. Story" script, spent about a week earlier this month on Oahu and Molokai discussing the project. Stacy Helm, George's sister, said the family had given its blessing to produce the film.
George Jarrett Helm Jr. of Molokai disappeared in March 1977 while spearheading the occupation and eventual return of Kahoolawe island to Hawaii. Kahoolawe had been a U.S. Navy bombing target for 53 years until it was returned to the state in 1994, after a protracted struggle that Helm had started in the mid-1970s.
Gluckstein, introduced to the Helm family by Emmett Aluli, another prominent Hawaiian activist, has been trying to get the film made for about 10 years, Stacy Helm said.
"It takes that much time to understand the whole story, the cultural aspect, and getting to know the family," she said in a telephone interview from Molokai.
Foster -- who has produced "Daredevil," "The Score" "Tin Cup" and "Sleepless in Seattle" -- and executive producer Anna Hamilton Phalen -- screenwriter of "Healing," "Mask," "Into the Homeland," and "Gorillas in the Mist" -- returned to the mainland last Friday to move into the next phase of the production: seeking as much as $8 million in financing.
"The George Helm Jr. Story" will not be a documentary or docudrama but a theatrical film with "a story based on true incidents," Foster said. "It will be true to the spirit ... but we'll also take some dramatic license."
The family hopes audiences will come away from the film with an understanding of the Hawaiian movement and its cultural values, and respect for Hawaii's natural resources.
"Kahoolawe is the catalyst," Stacy Helm said. "The devastation (of Kahoolawe) has to be recognized, and why such a young person like George and many others take their stand (for) the values of Hawaiians."
Aluli, who also lives on Molokai, has read Gluckstein's script, apparently one of several written about Helm Jr. and his fellow activist Kimo Mitchell, who disappeared with Helm Jr. while paddling back from Kahoolawe.
"For the past 25 years, we have been working on various videotapes, docudramas, and even some movies about (them)." he said. "I have reviewed (a few) and have been really encouraged with this one for its sensitivity. ..."
Foster's recent Hawaii visit was his first to personally meet people he had had numerous telephone conversations with during the last several months.
"Across the board everyone has pledged in some form to figure out how to get the film made," Foster said. "This is obviously a very Hawaiian story and I want the world to know this film is about Hawaiians by Hawaiians. Everyone's been gracious, warm and helpful."
The producers hope to begin about 40 days of filming as early as next March. Preproduction will take 10 to 12 weeks, with another 15 to 20 weeks for post production work in Los Angeles. Film locations would include most of the Hawaiian islands, including Molokai and possibly Kahoolawe, Stacy Helm said.
The production team and the Helms want the film to carry "a universal message that leaves a legacy" like the recent New Zealand hit "Whale Rider," and "Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves," Foster said.
They also want to avoid any negative publicity like what occurred last year after Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson announced he would star in the biopic of King Kamehameha.
No actors have been approached for the Helm Jr. film, though Foster hopes to find a Hawaiian actor to portray the lead character.
Eric Byler, 30, Moanalua High School graduate and director of the award-winning independent feature "Charlotte Sometime," is being considered to direct the Helm Jr. film. He was recommended to Foster by Chris Lee, former vice president of production for Columbia/TriStar Pictures and now co-director of the University of Hawaii film school. Lee and Foster worked together on "Sleepless in Seattle."
Byler, who is Chinese-Caucasian and grew up in Hawaii, said he understands the cultural sensitivity surrounding the project, the importance of accurate portrayals of the Helm story, and that the Hawaiian community prefers telling its own stories.