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Voice found through film


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POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

On any given day, Kaliko Palmeira is in charge of all of the film shot on “;Lost”; or is working to establish himself as a Hawaiian narrative filmmaker—with three scripts in Hawaiian in the works—thanks in large part to mentoring from Torry Tukuafu.

“;Working with guys like Torry inspires me because of his great drive, and being around that kind of presence every day rubs off on you,”; said the 27-year-old Palmeira. “;It has built up my confidence tremendously, and it's helped me a lot with my own writing.”;

Tukuafu's desire to help young filmmakers in Hawaii overpowered his reluctance to participate in a newspaper article. But when you're a 6-foot-5-inch former University of Hawaii volleyball player who has doubled for Dwayne “;The Rock”; Johnson in movies, it's a little difficult to fly under the radar.

Even so, Tukuafu knew the minute he stepped in front of the camera that he belonged on the other side. And a passion for filmmaking was born. In the midst of his own rapid rise in the industry, Tukuafu has managed to open doors for other talented students struggling to break into movies and television.

One of Tukuafu's projects over the past few years was “;Showdown in Chinatown,”; a rapid-fire short filmmaking contest he began in December 2005 after he started on “;Lost”; as a film loader, the same job Palmeira has now.

With “;Lost,”; he and his friends had finally begun working constantly in a notoriously fickle business. Though grateful, they found themselves creatively stifled, which stimulated a good-natured contest. “;It basically became, 'I'm a better filmmaker than you,'”; he laughed.

So he and his aspiring filmmaker buddies decided to meet on a Saturday morning, draw a topic from a hat and give themselves 12 hours to make a 3- to 5-minute film, a task that would normally take days to complete. “;It was absolutely ridiculous,”; he said.

But the idea caught on, and the format evolved. At its peak in 2006, Showdown attracted 32 teams, each comprising one to 50 people.

“;At the beginning, it was good because it got people to a certain level of knowledge and experience,”; he said. “;It's now about the aggregate improvement in filmmaking in Hawaii, and to get people to increase the level of creativity out in the universe—without sounding too bohemian.”;

As the program and project length grew, fewer people were able to participate every month. After a hiatus, the contest will experience a rebirth in May, occurring once a quarter. Tukuafu—while still involved—is handing over the day-to-day operations to Richard Rayla, who recently opened a gallery in Chinatown.

His reasons for stepping away from Showdown revolve around his desire to finish two feature film scripts about Hawaii, and fulfill his duties for one more season on “;Lost,”; where producers promoted him to camera operator. He now offers creative input related to scenes and shots.

“;Basically, you're the eyes for the audience,”; he said. “;Going to work every day is a dream come true.”;

Tukuafu, who is 32 and a mix of Tongan and Caucasian, grew up in Utah and transferred to Kahuku for his senior year (he wanted to play volleyball, and Utah had little to offer). Eventually, UH recruited him to play outside hitter for its volleyball team. After landing a network security job, Tukuafu, on a whim, responded to an audition call for “;The Rundown,”; with filming in Hawaii.

The result? They selected him to be Johnson's stand-in (helping the crew set up shots when the actor is not available), which thrust him into the movie world in Hawaii and Los Angeles.

“;Once I stepped onto a movie set, I knew that was what I was going to do,”; he said. “;Within the first two weeks, I fell in love with the cameras, but I really didn't like being in front of them.”;

He wanted to earn a film degree, but UH's Academy of Creative Media did not exist yet, so he stayed in Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a cinematographer.

“;I spent the next two years working for peanuts in LA and learning as much as I could,”; he said. When “;Lost”; began “;I was stoked to come here; I know you have to be in LA, but there's nothing like the quality of life in Hawaii.”;

When the crew needed help one day, Tukuafu saw an opportunity to invite students to intern on one of the most rigorous sets in the television business. He inquired at ACM, and selected a few students. Based on their performances at work, two have landed full-time jobs on “;Lost.”;

Palmeira is one of them.

“;He is really symbolic of what I hope we can foster, which is to tell native Hawaiian and Polynesian stories on a larger scale,”; Tukuafu said. “;To do that, you need to have the skill to get an audience to sit down and listen to you.”;

Palmeira, who is Hawaiian, agreed, and credits Tukuafu for influencing young people like himself. “;Him being of color ... I know when he started he had to overcome some racism,”; noted Palmeira. “;Now he's able to communicate effectively with any of the producers. It's something that's sort of amazing to me.”;

Palmeira is pursuing his own projects and working with other young filmmakers to help them find their voices. As a result, “;stories about Hawaii from Hawaii are getting made,”; said Tukuafu.

“;For me, it's great to have someone like Torry in your life,”; said Palmeira. “;He will say, 'I believe in you as a filmmaker,' and that goes a long way.”;