Kaua‘i filmmaker tackles war and the effects on veterans

Paul Booth’s directorial debut “Empty Streets,” shot in Modesto, Calif., with an all-Hawaiian cast, tells the timely story of a Marine war veteran struggling to transition back into his life after a harrowing tour in the Middle East.

Booth first moved to Kaua‘i when he was 10 years old and graduated from Kaua‘i Community College in 2003 before heading to Vancouver, Canada, to attend film school.

His parents still live on Kaua‘i and are owners of Aloha Pizza in Coconut Marketplace.

The story is based on the real-life account of Booth’s close friend from high school who enlisted in the Marines shortly after graduation. “He felt like it was his only option. We were close friends, but during his tour I lost touch with him,” Booth said.

It was upon Cpl. Ely Kalilikane’s return to Honolulu that Booth found his friend and began to enter the disturbing world of post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of the war on returning soldiers.

“I began to notice small things at first, paranoia and extreme nervousness. He didn’t like being in public places, he couldn’t approach people, he felt like people were always out to get him or watching him. He started to tell me about awful nightmares and he suffered from severe insomnia,” Booth said.

The confidentiality of veterans regarding their time spent in service to the nation is something that Booth and Kalilikane take seriously. “The main character is based on Ely’s story, but there were many things he just didn’t want or couldn’t tell me about. I thought, ‘If he can’t even tell me, a friend of 15 years, he must feel really alone.’” Booth said.

Kalilikane was born and raised on O‘ahu, where he still resides.

Having produced “Blood of the Samurai” (Mountain Apple company), “Ninja EX” (OC 16) and “Ghost Game” (Hollywood Video nationwide, Blockbuster Hawaii, netflix.com) Booth feels this is his most personal work to date.

Having co-written the film with Kaua‘i resident Eve Hands of Paradise Production in Kapa‘a, directed and produced the short-length film “Empty Streets,” Booth had the creative control to delve into themes that even feature-length films feel shy to address in this political climate.

“The over-riding loneliness experienced by returning veterans adds to the alienation they feel. When I wrote the script I wanted to write about judgment — how we judge the homeless veteran without understanding the world of violence they’ve just been exposed to,” Booth said. “I support the troops. I support their well-being when they come back home. This is an international issue, returning soldiers from Korea, France and everywhere else are also having to deal with this. I invite the audience to examine these issues and think twice about homeless veterans, without passing judgment.”

Expressing his respect for the Marines and what they imparted to his friend in terms of discipline and honor, he said, “They saved his life in many ways. He couldn’t have gotten through the experience at all without what he learned from the Marines, but I know I could easily be making a movie about my friend’s homelessness or suicide if he hadn’t gotten support from his friends and family,” he said. “Psychological counseling for veterans is very minimal — way below necessary standards.”

With the recent Walter Reed Medical Center scandal, these issues are beginning to weigh on America’s conscience, a trend that Booth feels will be promising for future policy change.

Booth began his film career on Kaua‘i when he was the founder of Hawai‘i’s Student Film Festival and ran it during his college career (1999-2003).

His current film will be submitted to national film festivals and then released for public consumption through the Internet and community venues (libraries, schools, centers). “The dream of the short film is to have it picked up and then produced as a feature-length script,” Booth said.

Booth is inspired by French New Wave cinema. His favorite film, Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” — that exemplified the film movement’s characteristics of commenting on social and political upheavals through character-driven drama, and radical experiments with editing and visual style, that also helped to confront a conservative political era — is appropriate considering Booth’s desire to speak on weighty social and political issues in “Empty Streets.”

The intimate crew of director, cameraman and two actors shot in Modesto for eight days during the night. “We would start about 6 p.m. and go ‘til about 8 a.m. We all became friends, it was an independent, non-union shoot.”

Local Kaua‘i actress, Desiree Duclayan-Parsonson, co-stars in the film with Maui resident Anthony Haviland — both are long-time friends of Booth and that added to the depth of the personal nature of the project.

“With this film I want to inspire people to look at what veterans are going through and take action to change the perception of homeless veterans who deserve our help and care. I want people to realize how universal loneliness is and that coming back to any country after such a radical experience is the worst isolation to imagine. I want to inspire people to contribute to making a more peaceful accepting world, whether that’s through education or examining why you vote. We’ve all known someone who has gone through this experience. It’s time we come together to support them — not just when they are over there — but their transition after they return.”

“Empty Streets” is slated to be released in the next year.

• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 or kkeita@kauaipubco.com.

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