Highlights from the 42nd Hawai’i International Film Festival’s Virtual Program

For the third consecutive year of its 42-year run, the Hawai’i International Film Festival has a large selection of films available to view virtually. With titles ranging from Hawaii, the mainland, the overall Asia-Pacific region, and other parts of the world, there are so many for viewers to watch from the comfort of home, each of which expressing voices and stories of all kinds.

As the festival nears its conclusion for the year, yours truly would like to highlight a handful of its selected, feature-length narratives and documentaries that one should keep an eye out for:

Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon (dir. Jose Zelada, Richard Claus)

When evil forces threaten to destroy her homeland within the Amazon, it’s up to young aspiring warrior, Ainbo, with the aid of her spirit guides, to save her people. It’s a film for those looking for an equivalent to a Disney heroine story set amongst the Indigenous people of the Amazon, as well as a story that gets to the core of why it’s vital to protect the environment from being wiped away by greed. While the writing and character development could have been a little stronger in some areas, it’s otherwise an engaging film for audiences of all ages.

Just Remembering (dir. Daigo Matsui)

July 26 makes for a marker in time as the relationship between a stage lighting manager, Teruo, and a taxi driver, Yo, is explored over the course of life before and during the COVID-19 pandemic – but in the reverse order. A romance story that may otherwise have not been as interesting had it gone in chronological order reveals details in both their lives and life around them and how they all play parts both big and small in the couple’s time together. In its US premiere, Just Remembering takes the audience on an innovative journey of a romance from after it’s over, to the very beginning.

Blurring the Color Line (dir. Crystal Kwok)

It starts with a simple question director Crystal Kwok asks passengers on a MUNI bus in San Francisco: “Where do you think Chinese people sat on the bus in the Jim Crow South?” From these first few minutes of conversations leads to an uncomfortable yet much needed look at the often-overlooked history of Asian Americans in the south, the relationship between the Asian and Black communities, anti-Black racism, and the systems that contributed to creating that. It’s a must-see documentary – especially in a time of continual efforts made in both Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate.

Bad Axe (dir. David Siev)

This documentary has had a lot of buzz surrounding it for a reason! Set in the small town of Bad Axe, Michigan, the filmmaker returns to his hometown at the start of the pandemic, and documents the struggles his family experiences with continuing to run their restaurant – all the while also dealing with generational scars resurfacing, the Black Lives Matter movement reaching a turning point, and the consequences of living in a pro-Trump area. Consider Bad Axe required viewing regarding all of what has been happening in the United States in recent time.

Delikado (dir. Karl Malakunas)

Although the Philippine Island of Palawan may come across as a paradise, it is actually a battleground for environmental protections and political conflict – both of which prove to be life-threatening. It’s a dark yet essential documentary to watch of an all too familiar story of land development taking place on Indigenous land, and it’s up to those who live there to fight back. In a time of ongoing issues pertaining to Indigenous communities worldwide, as well as climate change at large, Delikado is one not to miss.

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