An Overview of the Made in Hawai`i Film Festival

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge Photo Courtesy of Kevianna Adams

A powerpoint presentation

The Made in Hawaiʻi Film Festival took place at the Hilo Palace Theater on Aug. 25, 2018 kicking off with a panel about the common difficulties that local film makers are fraught with. Zoe Eisenberg, Gerard Elmore, and Brian Kohne gave the audience a true idea of what it is to be a filmmaker in Hawaiʻi and how to make it big.

Robin Rihl, a local filmmaker, thankfully explicated, “In a small town like Hilo, or even in the state of Hawaiʻi, the hardest thing is finding an audience. The film festival provides just that.” It seems that making a second film can be, and often is, harder than the first. Kohne points out that “to make a career, your first feature is really a free pass. It’s what gets you on the map. Your second feature is what you’re judged on.” He also stated that once you’ve completed one, your standards go up and become harder to meet or exceed.

The festival was headed by Zoe Eisenberg, the Executive Director, and Phillips Payson, the Technical Director, who are both local filmmakers themselves. According to Rihl, “the Made in Hawaiʻi Film Festival is their love child.”

Rihl also explained, “Despite Hurricane Lane, multitudes of people showed to support for this budding event. I was surprised at how many filmmakers had still flown in despite the harsh weather. The audience was consistently large throughout the day with each film block.” Nonetheless, dedicated filmmakers and film audiences gathered to experience the delight they had previously signed up for.

While the festival was for those who enjoy a good movie, it was also put on in order to support local artists and create more of a demand for their work. “I actually think it’s really hard to make a movie, and it’s even harder to find an audience to watch a movie, so really we’re doing this to try to help local film makers show their work,” Eisenberg stated.

Altogether, the festival had 18 major films, along with several shorter ones, such as Robin Rihl’s thriller feature titled “Friendship for the Lost” and Derek Frey’s horror film “Green Lake.” The longest film to be entered in the festival was a documentary-style production by Steven Roby called, “Livin’ on a Rock.” The shortest production was “Soulsearching Hawaiʻi,” was directed by Brian L. Tan.

Rihl shared why he envisions flourishing into the world of movie screens. “I have always wanted to make or at least be involved in movies or TV since I was a small child. I love visual storytelling and, for me, it's cathartic to tell stories that were inspired by events in my own life or that I saw in other people's lives. A lot of the story in my film, “Friendship for the Lost,” is based off of things I witnessed in Hilo.”

In regards to giving local artists the ability to be recognized, Eisenberg says “I think it’s important to give Hawaiʻi-based creatives an avenue to showcase their work to their community, and I think it’s really important for our community to see independent films made in their state. The festival says a lot about the growth that's happening in the state with regards to film. It shows that smaller artists are getting more support and more of an audience than ever before.”

“Hilo needed an event like this,” Rihl continues. Hawaiʻi, and especially Hilo, have small pockets of artists that are very talented but also very isolated. An event like this brings people together to make the connections we need to have in this small island community. It gives bigger directors and filmmakers a chance to meet people who are just starting out and it gives them a chance to get their work seen and talked about.”

This was the first annual and inaugural film festival to take place in Hilo, there will almost undoubtedly be more to come from what Rihl calls the “dream team behind this amazing event.”