POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Hawaii Ocean Film Festival (HOFF) is riding a big wave of success. Director Melinda Sandler has many memorable stories to tell about the popular Kauai event, one of her favorites being the 1999 screening of “;Radical Attitude”; by Mike Waltze, a noted Maui filmmaker.

“;That documentary on surfing and windsurfing was one of Mike's earliest feature-length films,”; Sandler said. “;He got amazing footage of daring athletes riding huge waves at Jaws, the famous surfing spot at Peahi, Maui. The visuals were stunning!”;

Following its premiere at HOFF, “;Radical Attitude”; played at Hilo's venerable Palace Theater, which had not yet been renovated. As the movie progressed, the audience began cheering, clapping and jumping up and down.

“;They stirred up a lot of dust,”; Sandler recalled. “;I was afraid the balcony was going to fall on the seats below it!”; Thankfully, that didn't happen, and she walked out thrilled to have witnessed such an enthusiastic response to Waltze's dramatic film.

HOFF started in 1998 as a spinoff of the International Clean Oceans Conference held the year prior at Princeville Resort. Over the years, as with “;Radical Attitude,”; some of its films have been shown at venues on other islands, including the Palace Theater on the Big Island, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Maui and the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the University of Hawaii at Manoa on Oahu.

Since its inception, HOFF has screened 80 films in three major categories: marine resources, ocean recreation and man's cultural connections to the sea. They've ranged in length from one to 60 minutes and have been produced by student, amateur and professional filmmakers from around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Indonesia, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada, Brazil, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the mainland and, of course, Hawaii.

From comedies, animations and fiction features to music videos, documentaries and experimental films, HOFF welcomes any genre with an ocean theme. “;That's a very broad topic that allows for endless interpretations,”; Sandler said. “;We've had entries about conservation issues, science topics that would fit well on the Discovery Channel, and sports such as surfing, sailing, scuba diving and paddling.”;

HOFF is a boon to unknown filmmakers whose low-budget but nevertheless noteworthy works would not otherwise be seen by the general public because they don't have large-scale theater distribution.

Films are shown outdoors on a 30-foot-wide screen set up in a field a mile past Hanalei town on Kauai's North Shore. “;With that big of a screen, you don't just see and hear the ocean, you can almost feel and smell it,”; Sandler said.

Scheduled for Saturday, this year's festival drew 60 entries. Six hundred people are expected to view the eight winning films, including “;Between the Tides,”; judged tops in the marine resources-feature length category. In this 42-minute independently produced documentary, Colorado natives Tyler Quintano and Nick Manning explore the plight of 10,000 refugees who once lived on the island of Lohachara in the Bay of Bengal.





        » Place: Waipa Field, Hanalei, Kauai

» Date: Saturday


» Time: Sunset at about 7 p.m.


» Admission: $5 per person age 5 and older


» Phone: 652-3392


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» Web site: www.hawaiioceanfilmfestival.org


» Notes: Bring beach chairs and blankets. Popcorn, soda, bottled water and shave ice will be available for sale. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Waipa Foundation, whose mission is to restore the 1,600-acre ahupuaa (land division) of Waipa in North Kauai as a sustainable learning center for the preservation, perpetuation and practice of Hawaiian culture. For more information about the foundation, call 826-9969 or peruse the Web site www.waipafoundation.org.




In December 2006 researchers from Jadavpur University in Calcutta reported that Lohachara had vanished beneath the waves, the victim of rising sea levels caused by global warming.

“;Between the Tides”; asks sobering questions: Where have Lohachara's displaced residents relocated? How are those regions dealing with the situation economically, socially and politically? Is this an isolated incident, or is it a warning for other coastal areas worldwide? Even though HOFF's audience lives halfway around the globe, what can they do to help?

“;Films like this prompt viewers to think globally,”; Sandler said. “;HOFF's primary objective is to enlighten them about the concerns affecting the ecosystems we share as inhabitants of planet Earth. We hope to inspire them to take action on what they learned, and support the individuals and organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving the environment.”;

HOFF also has become a vehicle for students to shine. Shy and unsure at first, many kids have blossomed as they've conducted research, created storyboards, written scripts, operated cameras, directed, narrated, edited and composed music for their films. Eleven-year-old Kauai resident Lana Vali is HOFF's youngest participant to date.

“;Making films is an exciting path to self-discovery and self-expression,”; Sandler said. “;It enables students to stretch their imagination, gain knowledge, crystallize their ideas, build leadership skills and reaffirm their commitment to be stewards of our beaches, coral reefs, fish populations and other ocean resources. Films of great merit will continue to be viewed, and can launch rewarding careers.”;

In fact, after making their debut at HOFF, several fledgling filmmakers went on to show their works at the prestigious Maui Film Festival, the Pacifika: New York Hawaiian Film Festival and the International Surf Film Festival in Saint Jean de Luz, France.

Crowds in Washington, D.C., viewed two 2008 winners this year. “;The Wayfinders of Polynesia,”; which documents recent voyages of the famed double-hulled canoe Hokule'a, and “;Once Upon a Tide,”; a live-action and animated fairy tale about people living under a spell that makes them forget about the ocean, were screened at the Smithsonian Institution in March and at the inaugural International Marine Conservation Congress in May.

According to Sandler, these appearances validate the quality of films presented at HOFF. “;They're top notch both in content and artistic achievement,”; she said. “;Do you love the ocean and have an interest in filmmaking? If so, pursue your passion and participate in our festival! You can tell great stories. You can make great films. And in doing so, you can make a big difference.”;


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.