There’s a group of people standing in the middle of a rainforest. They are mostly Hawaiian men, along with a few women and other Pacific Islanders, all of varying ages, forming a loose half-circle around an immense tree. Their heads are bowed and a robed kahuna is leading a solemn prayer.
The process of building a proper Hawaiian canoe is an intensive one, often requiring years of preparation and labor. But the most vital step—finding the appropriate koa tree from which to carve the hull—involves an elaborate ritual of ancient Hawaiian customs that few people get to see today.
In Koa Canoe Expedition ’03, videographer Louis DiLiberto follows members of Hawaiian Canoe Club as they trek into the lush forests of Kipahulu. Once there, participants scout for a suitable tree, make offerings and perform ceremonial chants, cut, carve and attempt to transport the koa log down the steep slopes and ragged cliffs of precipitous East Maui, all while DiLiberto’s camera trails behind.
“There’s a protocol of taking a tree out of the mountain,” DiLiberto said. “It took two and a half years to get into the mountain, and two more years to carve the canoe. There’s a lot of info people don’t understand about Hawaiian culture. Video gives me an insider’s view on the stuff.”
Michael Clark, videographer and promoter of Maui Video Festival, supports the right to free speech. He has a long history with cable TV—his dad was a cable engineer in the 1960’s—and wants to create a video community. He believes there’s a market for people to see something outside the mainstream.
“There’s a huge base of creative people here, with really great work that never gets to TV,” Clark said. “It’s not just art—it’s life here, what it’s really like. This concept came to me: I do video, I love video. I feel it’s the true place to show—outside of Akaku—non-conformity.”
After seeing how well Barry Rivers orchestrated his independent film festival, and following along the same lines as Akaku television and Mana’o radio, Clark wanted to bring people together to showcase their art and provide another voice for the community. The concept Clark came up with was Maui Video Festival.
Acting as organizer for a non-profit, Clark does not charge a fee for festival screenings or submissions. He says he simply wants to provide the time and space for videographers to show their art and network.
He also just wants to get people comfortable in putting out their work. From his daytime gig doing corporate “incentive travel” videos, Clark has a circle of 20 to 25 videographers who are constantly showing him their stuff. But he is always looking for fresh perspectives.
“The cool thing is it doesn’t have to be professional,” he said. “An amateur can just be thinking about an idea, and see something from a pro and say, ‘Wow, I like the way he cuts!’—and then during intermission, introduce themselves and talk about possible projects.”
Since the “Imua: Steer, Stroke or Swim” program last month that grouped together a few videos showcasing a variety of canoe-related topics, Clark plans to have a themed Maui Video Festival event once a month. But because these screenings will be influenced by the coherence of subject matter, Clark could use more submissions to tie themes together.
“Somebody did this video art on video feedback, edited with music, so that it was like a mirror image inside a mirror image,” he said. “And somebody else did a video on Aloha Marketplace, on the grassroots vendors and how they get along. I gotta figure out how to incorporate those into an evening.”
Clark admits there’s a wide spray of disparate topics to choose from. But no matter what the subject is, if he needs a cohesive link, he can always go to Jay April—self-proclaimed “video guerilla guy”—who has an entire library’s worth of material he’s shot.
“Maui is the easiest place to shoot,” April said. “I mean, you just point the camera and hold it steady. And if somebody says something worthwhile, you hit record. It’s basically just sculpting light, and telling stories.”
April, who was Akaku’s board chairman until last week, perhaps understands the need for alternative expression more than anybody. And he appreciates Clark’s attempt to “get our people’s voice out” and utilizing the Iao Theater to do it.
“It’s terrific how he brought the venue to life with stories,” April said. “At the Maui Video Festival, there wasn’t anything censored there. When the Hawaiians go into the forest to hack a tree and you don’t wanna watch, you can leave. This is giving people permission to express themselves using video. It’s a breath of fresh air on the island, for people to be themselves.”
And being unique is also something April values. Along with his partner DiLiberto, April produces a show called AIR Lab (the AIR stands for Artists in Residence). April calls it basically television for people who don’t like, or feel insulted by, television.
“It’s TV for stoners, and for smart people,” April said. “It’s TV for stoners who are smart. It’s for people who enjoy altered states. It’s any kind of subject matter or ideas.”
They let shots run wide or a little long, which he feels automatically give it more meaning than mainstream TV, and opens each show with, “Watching television may be hazardous to your health.”
They’re going national with it in six months.
But unconventional artistic vision aside, April and DiLiberto are also intent on giving people a sense of Hawaiian culture and have produced a bunch of documentaries. In 1998, they won the Hawai`i International Film Award for Red Turtle Rising, a film on the plight of the endangered Hawksbill sea turtle.
And in 2005, April produced and directed Haleakala: A Sense of Place, providing a historic and cultural overview of Haleakala for the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), Air Force and the University of Hawai`i Institute for Astronomy (UHIFA).
However, most videographers receive no funding for what they do, devoting serious time, energy and equipment for the ability to shoot what they feel are important stories. Even April and DiLiberto, for all their accolades and experience, admit they work on a fairly tiny budget.
Money is obviously not a motivating factor. Many say their personal video projects are a way to counterbalance what they do for a living.
“I’ve spent a decade doing corporate work and got to a boiling point,” Clark said.
For daytime corporate video editor Steve Luksic, who along with Sascha Bauml won the Makena Video Contest in 2004 for E Kupa`a Honua`ula, focusing on Hawaiian culture in his free time is a chance for him to convey a message and share a vision.
“Jimi Hendrix said it best,” Luksic said. “‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.’”
“My day job is commercial work—not a whole lot of heart in it,” DiLiberto said. “I’ve always been kind of an activist. I used to document anti-nuke rallies in the ‘70s. I use it to change the way people think and feel about issues.”
But for all its guerilla allure, video doesn’t yet seem to get the kind of mainstream respect that film receives. Why work in a medium that isn’t taken as seriously?
“Video started with a toy from Sony that was like a crayon!” April said. “It was wicked cheap, and you could shoot what you want for an hour. Film is expensive. You have to plan what you shoot with film. But when people started learning film techniques, it made video better. Now there’s no difference—it’s all digital, all high quality. The message is the message. Technology and media have merged. It’s about telling stories without boundaries. It’s a new world.
“If you have unlimited resources, you can do anything. It’s the ease of editing, post-production, cost and in many ways, image-gathering. And it’s instant playback. Film and video at this point is kind of an apples an oranges thing.”
One notable distinction between video and film is a certain level of intimacy a single hand-held camera can inadvertently achieve. In Queen Lili`uokalani Race, Luksic captured the energy and excitement of an 18-mile race, as his camera bobbed alongside a Kihei Canoe Club women’s crew and water sprayed his lens.
In DiLiberto’s koa expedition video, during the solemn ceremony, escalating rain drops created an ambient hiss and cackle against the camera equipment, as a close-up shot lingered over the dewy chicken-skin of a participant’s shoulder.
It’s an effective, perhaps involuntary, device that could make the viewer shudder in sympathy, but essentially draws you into the intensity of the scenario and gives you the sense that you are there. And that is exactly the kind of thing Michael Clark and his Maui Video Festival is going for.
“My hope is that we attract new storytellers into the medium and give them a place to be inspired,” he said. “That the screenings continue and the dialog amongst us grows. That our ability to tell stories meaningfully of the people and the places around us will grow as well.”
The Maui Video Festival series continues on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 6:30 p.m. at the Iao Theater. This month’s theme: “Coral Floral.” For more info, or to submit videos for future shows, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. MTW