Hands-on at the 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

When invited to attend the 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai for 4 days, I jumped at the occasion. The prospect to see award-winning cinema combined with meeting support speakers detailing the fortitude of their production journey was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was in my wheelhouse to attend this cinema celebration, having 14 years of film and television production under my belt. After those 4 days, I came away with a true appreciation that these humble filmmakers exuded unyielding passion on documenting the will to succeed, the desire to capture nature’s wealth in our oceans and landscapes; but moreover, objectively ignite audience awareness that nature’s bounty is at risk to the point of extinction.

The Waimea Ocean Film Festival’s Founder and Executive Director is the incredibly talented Tania Howard. Her exceptional ability to hand-pick relevant films out of multitudes submitted is a rare talent. Tania has managed the festival for 9 years and it is a visible passion. Her knowledge, skill and elegant execution shines a peaceful glow on everyone she graces. Her team members have devotedly assisted her for years and you can feel their warmth and responsibility for this important event they so duly represent.

2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival Intro

The Waimea Ocean Film Festival generally lasts 9 days the first week in January annually. The festival took place January 1-9, 2018 at various theaters in Waimea, the Mauna Kea Resort, The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, and the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Aside from featuring over 60 prodigious films, there are art and music exhibits, breakfast talks and activities for attendees.

The following is a chronicling of my experience and some of the cinema and guest speakers I was so fortunate to experience:

Friday, January 5, 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival
On my first day, upon entering the lobby of the Four Seasons Hualalai, I was greeted by a replica of one of the original cloaks worn by King Kamehameha. What a welcome! The hotel staff happily directed me to the Hoku outdoor theater. Prior to the first film start, Beamer-Solomon Halau O Po’ohala performed. A sixth-generation cultural practitioner, Leiomalama Tamasese Solomon’s 158-year legacy is apparent with a mission dedicated to the preservation and continuation of hula.

Wee Day Out

Danny MacAskill rides through the Scottish countryside in “Wee Day Out”

Then began the short film, Wee Day Out. This 6-minute ode was produced by Red Bull Media and directed by Stu Thomson. The movie chronicled world-class mountain bike rider, Danny MacAskill’s day off, and it was more than a mere jaunt outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. MacAskill’s mountain bike was an alloy appendage and there was never a detour this Scottish bike czar couldn’t defeat: mountainous boulders, stacked stone walls, an old thatched roof farmhouse or 4-inch track of a train rail, and even backward somersaults down Scottish Highlands. For those six minutes, I was awestruck by the feats dominated by mere spoke and wheel. Wee Day Out had that particular ‘joie de vie’ with the musical composition of “National Express” performed by Divine Comedy over MacAskill’s antics. A perfect pairing of gravity-defying illusion and musical joviality.

Le Ride

TV host Phil Keoghan retraces the 1928 Tour de France in “Le Ride” – Photo Credit Doug Jensen

Then came Le Ride. No French subtitle reading here, the film centers on retracing the footsteps of Australians Sir Hubert Opperman, Ernie Bainbridge and Percy Osborne, and New Zealander Harry Watson. These underdogs were the first English speaking team to compete in the 1928 Tour de France. After six weeks at sea, the team of only 4 arrived in Paris under-trained and under-resourced, normally each team had 10 riders. Completely written off by the French media, they went on to be one of the select 41 competitors remaining out of 161 in this ‘last man standing’ hell on wheels race through the Pyrenees and the Alps. This legendary tale of against-all-odds triumph has never been honored on film until Phil Keoghan, host of The Amazing Race and his friend Ben Cornell recreated the journey riding rickety, vintage, 1928 steel bikes, attempting the original route, climbing over 20,000 feet in one day and averaging 150 miles per day for 26 days. This documentary chronicled the human spirit’s steadfast fight for the will to succeed. Mike DesRoches with Sony Professional Solutions stayed afterward for Q&A from the audience describing the production team’s 3,338-mile crossing during production.

Saturday, January 6, 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival
My second day began at the Moana Terrace above ‘Ulu Ocean Grill for a breakfast talk with none other than one of my heroes, Mr. Anthony Geffen. Mr. Geffen’s films have been viewed by over 4 billion people – real impact in every sense of the word.

The founder and CEO of Atlantic Productions, Anthony was hand-picked out of Oxford at a young age by Frank Wells (former head of Warner Bros). Mr. Geffen then worked for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and later founded Atlantic Productions in 1992. Acclaimed for receiving over 50 international awards including multiple BAFTA (British Academy Film and Television) and the only producer awarded three Emmys in a year for documentary filmmaking, Mr. Geffen is a fellow by special election at Oxford and winner of the coveted Sir Charles Wheatstone Award. His television, theatrical and IMAX documentaries and dramas are seen in over 150 countries and focus on history, science, natural history, the arts, current affairs, and music.

Great Barrier Reef: Visitors

Stunning Imagery from David Attenboroughʻs “Great Barrier Reef” ©Atlantic Productions

That afternoon the audience was delighted to see Anthony Geffen’s outstanding collaboration with David Attenborough’s double (BAFTA) nominated Great Barrier Reef series. Each of Mr. Geffen’s films were followed by audience Q&A with the award-winning visionary.

Mr. Geffen has produced over eleven documentary films with David Attenborough, namely the Great Barrier Reef series. As a pioneer in VR (Virtual Reality) Mr. Geffen leads Atlantic’s creative team and helped expand their portfolio to also include CGI, 3D, and app software platforms. He just completed a project with Oscar-winning actress, Judi Dench, entitled My Passion for Trees, Queen Elizabeth of the British Royal Monarchy, titled The Coronation and was in special collaboration with theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, Dr. Stephen Hawking. Mr. Geffen’s next venture will take him across our world’s deepest oceans for 18 months to undercover the wealth of our seas for advanced research in medicine.

Mind of a Giant

An Elephant studies its reflection in “Mind of a Giant” ©Vulcan Productions

Later, that evening I was fortunate to view Mind of a Giant which cataloged the work of scientists exploring what it is like to be an elephant through ground-breaking research. As a team of scientists struggles to find out how many elephants are left in Africa, they accidentally discover intriguing new behavior. In order to survive, the elephants are learning safe zones without any property line markers and clearly communicating this information between one another. The African elephant is more intelligent than we ever realized: elephants can cooperate, they can problem-solve, they have self-awareness like dolphins, apes, humans, orcas and European magpies.

As one of most complex creatures on the planet, we are unfortunately losing them. As told through the eyes of Satao, a large male elephant, whose story brought tears to the audience’s eyes. Scientists documented Satao consistently trying to camouflage his over 6.5 feet long tusks in African brush in an attempt hide them from poachers. Satao somehow knew his massive tusks would be a detriment – and as he feared, they were ultimately taken from him for an estimated half a million-dollar profit on the black market. Satao was killed at 45 years of age. Sateo was determined to be one of the largest elephants in the world when he perished and is recognized as one of Kenya’s most cherished and iconic, tuskers (i.e., male elephants with tusks that almost reach the ground).

Sunday, January 7, 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival
Sunday started with a breakfast talk by Dr. Gregory Stone. A sit down over tea with Dr. Stone is a step into a higher level of consciousness. Dr. Stone has appeared in multiple documentaries on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. In 2007, he was named one of National Geographic’s heroes for his work since 2000 with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Trust to which he continues to serve as the board (chair). As Chief Scientist for Oceans at Conservation International, as well as Special Advisor on Oceans to the World Economic Forum he serves on additional boards for Pacific Rising and Aqua-Spark. Dr. Stone is newly appointed to the role of Science Advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy for the Ocean.

As a young man growing up in Boston, Dr. Stone was inspired to become an oceanographer by watching Jacques Cousteau as a child and he “would count the days” between episodes. He started as a diver, working with dolphins, lived underwater for 30 days and has seen first-hand the dangers our oceans face. People have regarded stewardship of the land for hundreds of years; yet “we are very far behind on stewardship of our oceans. “

Dr. Stone’s role as Science Advisor for the United Nations will be part generating research, implementing awareness and regulation for global governments and business organizations to institute metric evaluations in an effort to develop solutions reducing the impact on our oceans. “I’ve seen at 18,000 feet down our oceans filled with trash and have had a front-row seat identifying the problems and solution sets.” He also noted that even the Prince of Monaco is stepping forward motivating countries and businesses towards serious policy and accountability. “It’s almost like a war. If you think of our oceans as a sick patient inflicted with illnesses, you need a professional doctor to help heal them.”

He recently authored “Soul of the Sea “In the Age of Algorithm” with Nishan Degnarain which focuses on how technology can not only help us comprehend our oceans but help us to recondition them.

The Big Wave Project, Band of Brothers

Mick Corbett surfs the Australia Slab in “The Big Wave Project” Photo ©Tim Bonython Productions

That evening a crowded audience watched The Big Wave Project, Band of Brothers at the Hoku outdoor theatre. This film chronicled fearless surfers: Garret McNamara, Billy Kemper, Grant Baker, Andrew Cotton, Jamie Mitchell, Ryan Hipwood, Aaron Gold and Mark Healy to name a few. Despite the ocean’s powerful force, these brave surf legends had an unyielding desire to put themselves in harm’s way to ride the biggest wave possible. The Big Wave Project, Band of Brothers by Australian Filmmaker Tim Bonython accounts the comradery that only a few select wave warriors bond from riding the big one. Battling over 70-80 foot global swells such as ‘Jaws’ at Pe’ahi along Maui, Cloudbreak in Fiji, Teahupo’o in Tahiti and Nazare’ in Portugal, a viewer is literally holding their breath throughout this film. This was truly an awe-inspiring narrative to which I gained even more appreciation for the bravery of Big Wave Surfers.

Nervous Laughter

Dege O’Connell surfs at Pe’ahi/Jaws in “Nervous Laughter” – Photo Credit Erik Aeder

Next was Nervous Laughter. Directed by Daniel Norkunas and produced by surfer Albee Layer, this film was shot off of Maui, namely the Pe’ahi area which creates the mother of all waves “Jaws.” El Nino in 2016 generated this atmospheric explosion of swell over 60 feet tall. Nervous Laughter accounts how these long-time surfer friends really talk and mentally prepare before surfing “Jaws” as a force of nature: Albee Layer, Kai Lenny, Billy Kemper, Dege O’Connell and Torrey Meister.

Monday, January 8, 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival
My morning started with a breakfast talk by Dr. Claire Simeone from the Marine Mammal Center. A sister center to the Sausalito, California location which opened in 1975 saving over 20,000 seals, the Marine Mammal Center opened Ke Kai Ola (“The Healing Sea”) in 2014 to which Dr. Simeone serves as Hospital Director. Built on an old missile site near Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole, the center assists in the rescue and veterinary care of seals, dolphins, and whales. The center is dedicated to caring for injured, ill, and orphaned Hawaiian monk seals and returning them to the wild. In 2017 the center successfully rescued over 1,000 animals. It is also an educational center where the community can understand what is endangering our mammals and the center’s successful rehabilitation efforts.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is native to Hawaii and was placed on the endangered list in 1976, today there are barely 1,400 remaining in the Hawaiian Islands. Throughout their lifetime a female will birth only 8-9 pups, traveling independently to the original place of their birth. Breeding in shallow waters, they do not form colonies. Pollution, fishing lines, fishing nets and climate change is affecting their survival. The center’s Recovery Team meets annually in determining ways to coordinate the rescue of these amazing creatures. If you spot a Hawaiian monk seal, please call the 24-hour hotline to report the sighting at 808-987-0765.

Tales by Light and the photography of Darren Jew

Submerged mother and calf Humpback whales off Tonga in “Tales by Light” – Photo © Darren Jew

My day continued in the ballroom near the Hoku theatre where the audience was captured by Tales by Light celebrating the accomplishments by Australian Marine and Canon Master photographer, Mr. Darren Jew. Darren is a 5-time Canon/AIPP Australian Prof Science, Environment and Nature Photographer of the Year. His ability to intimately photograph whales in their natural environment has captured audiences around the world. For those interested, you can reserve a spot to free-swim with these majestic creatures – under expert guidance – in the clear warm waters of Tonga in the South Pacific breeding grounds, or in the northern feeding grounds of Norway.

Following the afternoon films, the audience was greeted by Chad Wiggins, Marine Program Director for The Nature Conservancy on Hawaii Island. Holding a Bachelor Degree in Marine Science from the University of Hawaii Hilo, Chad has successfully developed strategies combining science with traditional knowledge to support Hawaii’s reefs and coastlines.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival
Tuesday morning started with another breakfast talk with Uncle Earl Regidor, manager of the Ka’upulehu Cultural Center at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Our discussion started not with words but with song. Uncle Earl’s Hawaiian chant to which he so beautifully sang to the group gave his stories added meaning with the tale of his family’s “aumakua” being the shark. In Hawaiian mythology, an ʻaumakua (/aʊˈmɑːkuːə/; often spelled aumakua) is a family god, often a deified ancestor. We all have one, it’s up to us to recognize it within life’s challenging directions.

As this was my final morning of breakfast talks at the festival. I found these morning discussions invaluable and an intelligent addition to the festival’s overall program, definitely not to be missed.

The Farthest

Voyager floating in space in “The Farthest” – Photo Courtesy of Waimea Ocean Film Festival

That evening the audience was introduced to Elmer Reynolds’ documentary entitled The Farthest. In 1977, NASA launched twin Voyager space crafts: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. These aircraft not only explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune but 48 of their moons and carried messages from earth. This message tool was the legendary Golden Record. Arranged by Carl Sagan this phonograph, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk, contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. As a 90-minute interstellar mixtape, this message of goodwill from the people of Earth was made for any extraterrestrial passersby who might stumble upon one of the two Voyager spaceships at some point over the next couple billion years. This emotional, cinematic documentary, The Farthest tells the key group of scientists’ story through first-hand accounts celebrating planetary exploration.

Overall, I found The 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival one of the most valuable and educational experiences of my adult age and I look forward to attending again next year. I experienced the thrill of great filmmaking for understanding, inspiring speakers who left me with a cause, and enriching art and activities honoring the traditions of Hawaii.

You can download the 2018 Waimea Ocean Film Festival Program here.

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