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Questions of belief, questions of respect

Honolulu Weekly
September 22-29, 2004

Documentaries are in fashion as never before, but 22 years ago in Hawai’i two activist videographers were way ahead of the trend.

By Bob Green

Partners Puhipau and Joan Lander established their independent video production team Na Maka o ka ‘Aina (the Eyes of the land) in 1982, and from the start they have dedicated their efforts to documenting Hawaiian culture, politics, language and unique environment. These documentaries have traveled far, winning awards at film festivals, airing on PBS, as well as local public access, and appearing on television in Japan, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia. Some titles are familiar to us:

Act of War – The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, Stolen Waters, Pele’s Appeal, Kalo Pa’a o Waiahole – Hard Taro of Waiahole and Kaho’olawe Aloha ‘Aina.

Now the videographers, who produce, shoot and edit these productions, have released their newest: Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege. Just under 80 minutes, the film is typical of their approach, juxtapositioning belief and value systems (in this case, hard science enlarging its colony of telescopes on the volcano, which the Hawaiians consider sacred and not to be sullied). Both sides—perhaps all sides is a better term—present their cases: scientists who wish to expand their work on Mauna Kea; Hawaiians who think the expansion is sacrilegious; and moderates who think some compromise is possible.

The faces of those involved, often in striking close up, show people who do not yet understand one another, and perhaps will not.

The video also treats the cases of another indigenous people (as the U.S. calls Hawaiians), the Apaches of Arizona who also have had their sacred mountains used for astronomy, and what transpired when they protested. In the case of Hawai’i, both chants and contemporary music punctuate the scenario, and beautiful location-shooting juxtaposes telescopes (and attendant structures) with ancient guardian outposts, wordlessly dramatizing the culture-clash.

The video is not heavy handed but it does not shy away from presenting Hawai’i emotionality and scientific rhetoric, and two very different belief systems attempt to come to terms with each other. The complexities are captured for video audiences without being reduced to simplistics, and the results are moving and suasive.

As for Puhipau and Joan Lander, they’re moving on to a new project. “You know, that means finding money,” Puhipau says by phone from the couple’s office on the Big Island. “But we’re going right on,” adds Lander. “We have some new equipment…and more stories to tell.”

Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege will play in the new UH/Bank of Hawaii Cinema Series Fri 9/24 & Sun 9/26, 6 PM, UH Architecture Auditorium. Receptions for the filmmakers Fri 9/24. 5-6 PM and Sun 9/26 3-5 PM. The Sunday showing will also be followed by a Q&A with Kealoha Pisciotta whose ancestors are interred on Mauna Kea.


 

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