Something special has been happening in Maui Nui’s most Hawaiian outposts, on Lanai, Molokai and—this weekend, October 1-3—in the Valley Isle’s own Hana town. For eight years, the Hana Film Festival has been a grassroots extravaganza showcasing a slew of local filmmakers, accompanied by cultural practitioners and artists, including some of Hawaiian music’s greats.
Creator and event organizer Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier—who in 2007 won an Emmy for his work on Ki ho ‘alu (Loosen the Key) – Keola Beamer, and who is also well-known for his Jazz Alley TV productions—spearheads these delightful community events, which are always free, family-oriented and open to everyone. This year’s festivities kick off at the Stella Blues Cafe’s intimate Supper Club, with New Orleans legend—and recent inductee into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame—Coco Robicheaux, alongside Herbie Vigreux (see this week’s Music Scene, page 17, for more). Vigreux will also debut his new film, Endangered Species, during the weekend’s screenings at Hana Bay.
With over 15 films on the roster, Burgmaier debuts two of his own new creations, Hana Remembers Her Sons – Sarah Joe and Massacre at Kaupoa Beach. If nothing else, these two films highlight Bergamaier’s keen eye for finding—and filming—startling stories that pluck at Hawaiiana heartstrings and leave you begging to learn more.
HANA REMEMBERS HER SONS – SARAH JOE
The tragic, true tale of the young Hana men lost at sea aboard the Sarah Joe in 1979 is steeped in sorrow and intrigue.
Hana herself had carved four svelte sons, of the bygone ethics of ’70s sea and sun—Ralph Malaiakini, Scott Moorman, Benjamin Kalama and Patrick Woessner—who true to local boy form dubbed themselves the “Nahiku Gorillas.” On an oddly placid February morning, they loaded Malaiakini’s twin brother’s 17-foot Boston whaler with their poles and a cooler of beer, and set off from Hana Bay. As the day began to fade a storm quickly broiled, the likes which witnesses say they’d never seen, and the four men aboard the Sarah Joe were never seen again.
Search efforts were exhaustive—the community relentless in their search and ardently hopeful for Malaiakini, Moorman, Kalama and Patrick’s safe return. Many friends and family members chastised the U.S. Coast Guard of the day for not listening to local fishermen’s intuition and area knowledge, which they say—had recommendations been heeded—would have resulted in rescue.
For weeks on end, ohana would congregate at Hana Bay with pots of hot, homemade stew ready to feed the ravaged young seamen they hoped would moor at any moment. Months passed and the grief of reality began to settle, but closure for the community still seemed as far away as a speck on the horizon of a returning vessel that would never come.
More than a decade later, in 1988, marine researcher John Naughton of the National Marine Fisheries Service—who by happenstance had been one of the search party in 1979—was exploring the Marshall Islands. When he passed along the northernmost atoll of Taongi, he spotted a small, wrecked vessel with unmistakable Hawaiian registry numbers. Could it be that woeful whaler lost nearly a decade ago?
It was. More than 10 years and 2,000 miles away, the Sarah Joe had been found. But Naughton discovered more than just a washed-up wreck subject to the Pacific’s strong, swirling current—he also found a grave of piled rocks and a Christian cross, harboring the charred remains of a sole sailor (which forensics revealed to be Moorman). Most mysteriously, within the pyre were scraps of Asian burial foils. Though a special aired the following year on TV’s Unsolved Mysteries, the question of who took the care to give Moorman a proper burial remains unanswered. Naughton hypothesizes it may have been poachers hunting giant clams and other aquatic oddities that fetch sums on the black market—perhaps even years prior to the boat’s discovery—and who by revealing themselves would also reveal their illegal exploits.
But, finding—and returning—the Sarah Joe to Hawaii gave closure to the families of the men; the chewed hull a heart-wrenching artifact to a story that seems made for the screen, and forever a monument to the young lives lost and the love their community had for them.
MASSACRE AT KAUPOA BEACH
“Located on the West end of Molokai,” narrates Nick Burgmaier, “Kaupoa Beach is made up of two beaches shaped like crescent moons… divided by a rocky outcropping in the center.” Nick, son of filmmaker Ken, takes us on a journey to this small “jewel of Western Molokai,” as described by resident Walter Ritte in an interview in the film. Nick was just nine years old when he was first invited to attend a Hawaiian music camp on these sun-drenched grounds, learning ukulele and slack key from masters like the Beamer ohana and Brother Noland, and weaving hats from coconut fronds under the plentiful trees’ shade.
But a little more than six months ago, this treasured area of the Friendly Isle came under fire and was left decimated.
“All the coconut trees were beheaded. It felt like they were all murdered. Dead coconut trees everywhere… How could this happen?” asks Nick.
Ritte adds, “When you go to Kaupoa today, it makes you want to cry. What you see hits you way inside.”
“To see the way it is today, it’s criminal,” says Noland with a quiver of passion.
“Why would [someone] do this? That is my question,” says Nick.
It’s a question both Burgmaiers hope to bring to the forefront with their film, and—on a much lighter note—hope you’ll join them in the festivities happening on Maui’s East end this weekend, a celebration of film, culture, music and community discourse.
For more info, call 573-5530 or visit www.mauifest.net