Best bets for weekend fun

Thursday, June 11, 1998

File photo
Until his death in 1988, Luther Makekau continued
to observe Hawaiian tradition.

Makekau’s tale travels
to Santa Cruz

California audiences see
the film about the spirited character

The residents of Santa Cruz, a surf city just down the coast from San Francisco, can thank Jeanette Paulson for their yearly dose of aloha.

This year's ray of Hawaiian sunshine was especially welcome, as it arrived in the middle of a miserably soggy El Nino episode. And it was delightfully bright, because Hawaiian singer, songwriter and filmmaker Eddie Kamae personally kicked off the Pacific Rim Film Festival with song and story.

Luther Kahekili Makekau: One Kine Hawaiian Man: At 9 p.m. tomorrow, repeating at 4 p.m. June 21,KHON/FOX

Paulson has expanded her good work with the Hawaii International Film Festival by creating the nonprofit Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. Netpac brings the best half-dozen films of the Hawaii International Film Festival to various appreciative communities along the West Coast.

Santa Cruz became involved a decade ago when author James Houston returned from a stint with the East-West Center in Manoa raving about Hawaii's film festival. Houston helped form a community coalition to make Santa Cruz part of the film tour, with kokua from Elizabeth Buck at the East-West Center.

This year the heart of the Pacific Rim Film Festival was "Luther Kahekili Nu'uanu O Makekau: One Kine Hawaiian Man," the latest in the Hawaiian Legacy Series of films Kamae is producing with his wife, Myrna.

Kamae met Makekau when he was creating his first film, about Sam Li'a, and was immediately attracted to Makekau's Hawaiian spirit that refused to be tamed.

Kamae visited the aging Makekau in the hospital to show him the finished film about his friend Li'a, and he clapped his hands with glee at the end. Then he told Kamae, "You're not finished. You have one more film to make. Mine."

Kamae took that as a pledge, believing that in the Hawaiian tradition of punahele, he was chosen to tell Luther's story.

And the story was irresistible. Born in Maui's remote Waimanu Valley in 1890, Makekau lived until 1988, straddling two centuries, two ways of life and two cultures.

Through all of Hawaii's painful changes, Makekau stayed in touch with the old ways, understanding kapa making, songs and chants in ways that most people had forgotten.

He was a direct descendant of Kahekili, Maui's warrior king and the blood father of Kamehameha the Great. But Makekau was born too late, and his warrior spirit had no place in the changing culture. So he became a wild man as that energy sought a way to express itself, inspiring stories and testimony from hundreds of friends and family in Kamae's film.

Makekau's life ended the way it began, the way people always had lived in Hawaii: outdoors. Well into his 90s, he lived on the beach in remote Opihikau on the Big Island, sleeping in a hammock and beginning each day chanting to the ocean before fishing for his meals, and ignoring his grandchildren's pleas to move to a convalescent home.

Films such as this bring thousands of people together and broaden their cultural horizons, says Cori Houston, director of the Santa Cruz festival that her father helped start. "Our festival brings films that would never come to a mainstream theater, giving people an opportunity to see films from other cultures and countries.

"When we show a film from a particular country, like India, local Indian community members show up. There is always a good showing of local ethnic groups, UC Santa Cruz students, senior citizens groups come for the free matinee showings, high school teachers bring their classes, and of course film buffs," she says.

Houston runs a soccer camp for youngsters 5-12 years old, but after Christmas she drops everything to hustle for funding and theater space for the film festival.

"We are super dedicated to keeping it free, so all the inhibitions people might have are gone when they realize that it's not a for-profit venture for anybody," Houston says.

"Everybody is welcome, everybody has the opportunity to come to the theater. Even when our budget looks slim and people start to say, 'Maybe we should charge money,' we say, 'No, we've got to keep it absolutely free.' "

Which makes the film festival one of the last bargains left in the world.

By Greg Ambrose, Special to the Star-Bulletin

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