Documentary shines spotlight on the land

Nearly a full century before the advent of the Internet, and long before modern communications devices like the telephone, Native Hawaiians used what today is still called the coconut wireless to get the word out about the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s monarchy, and to organize a petition drive urging reinstatement of what today is called by some the lawful Hawaiian government.

In 1897, some 31,000 Native Hawaiians signed something called the Monster Petition, against annexation of Hawai‘i to the United States.

“Hawaiians were everywhere protesting,” said documentary filmmaker Meleanna Aluli Meyer.

The focal point of the struggle was, and is, as much the land (‘aina) as the people, she said.

“This film is about that ongoing struggle for justice,” said Meyer, who will be on Kaua‘i on Sunday and Monday to film scenes for a documentary, “Ku‘u ‘Aina Aloha: My Beloved Country.”

Tentatively, Meyer, former Kaua‘i resident and The Garden Island reporter Stephanie J. Castillo, and other members of a film crew, will be escorted by Sabra Kauka to areas like a restored heiau near Coco Palms Resort, Ha‘ena, Kalihiwai, Hanalei Valley taro fields, and to other locations where Native Hawaiians lived at the time of the overthrow.

The idea is to visit all of the islands, and let today’s Native Hawaiians and the ageless land tell their stories, Meyer explained.

“To claim their voice, tell our stories. There are lots of wonderful Native Hawaiians on Kaua‘i doing amazing things,” she said.

“It’s not a race issue. It’s a chance to decide whose story to tell,” she continued. “This is legacy stuff.

“Kaua‘i is a historic island. It’s important to let each island have its voice,” she said in a telephone interview from Maui, where she and members of the crew were filming earlier this week.

The finished work, she promised, will be “spectacular.”

With a budget of over $620,000 and funding coming from Public Broadcasting Service and Office of Hawaiian Affairs leaders (so far), Castillo has assembled a crew that includes Meyer and Alun Bollinger, as director of photography.

Bollinger is responsible for the stunning images of “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings,” and other productions.

“A major theme in our documentary (is) the love and care of land by Hawaiians who lived the overthrow and annexation, and the love of ‘aina by their monarchy who tried to keep and protect it, especially their Queen Lili‘uokalani, who wrote songs about it and grieved its loss,” Castillo said.

“I believe that the spirit of Lili‘uokalani speaks to us today through the vehicle of her mele (songs) and, as with other ancestors, admonish us to listen well, to hear what is deepest within us,” said Meyer, who is director, producer and writer.

“And so we are compelled to use her music in this film as we recall her words in 1917, ‘I could not turn back the time for political change, but there is still time to save our heritage,’” Meyer said.

“‘Ku‘u ‘Aina Aloha’ will bear witness to the immeasurable suffering brought to bear upon a once-proud and self-sufficient people and the imperative challenge facing us to affect justice in our homeland,” she continued.

“‘Ku‘u ‘Aina Aloha’ also will honor the triumphs and strivings of Hawaiians who for more than 100 years have faithfully continued our queen’s struggle to win back their nation and to perpetuate love for our land,” she said.

“Despite the grim realities and tragic statistics overwhelming Hawaiians today, a vision of great hope still persists because the queen’s vision endures. ‘Be of one heart, love our land, and stand firm with unity,’ will always be her mele,” said Meyer.

Meyer is director, Meyer and Castillo are co-producers and co-writers, and a cast of Native Hawaiian advisors have signed on who will guarantee the factual accuracy of the documentary.

Meyer holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, and a bachelor’s degree in design and photography from Stanford University.

She has completed three documentaries on Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i’s people.

Castillo holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, and won an Emmy Award for one of her independent documentary films, “Simple Courage.”

Castillo, Meyer and crew members are in the middle of an intense, three-week filming schedule that has already taken them to Moloka‘i and Maui, where they have shot scenic footage and interviewed storytellers.

A rough cut of the film is anticipated in January 2007, with a final cut anticipated in March 2007, Castillo explained.

More information on Castillo and her company, ‘Olena Media, of Honolulu, is available at

Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or


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