Return engagement

LIHUE — After a seven-year absence, a group of local film enthusiasts are working to bring the Hawaii International Film Festival back on island.

Robert Lambeth, deputy director of HIFF, was on island Tuesday to speak with County of Kauai Film Commissioner Art Umezu and other community members to discuss the possibility of bringing the internationally-acclaimed festival to Kauai this October.

And what better year to re-introduce the event to Kauai then the 100th anniversary of film in Hawaii?

It’s also the 33rd year the nonprofit organization has been in existence.

HIFF — one of the first three original Asian film festivals in America — has a mission to promote films from Asia Pacific and North America.

HIFF made its Kauai debut in 1981. But the destruction caused by Hurricane Iwa in 1982 prevented the film festival from returning to Kauai.

In 1986, Kauai re-introduced the film festival, but due to a lack of funding and staffing, HIFF ended on Kauai in 2006.

“That’s the past,” Umezu said. “We are going to leave the past … but HIFF has moved on to a completely new dimension. We didn’t have the money for many years, but now with the economy coming back, I feel it’s time to join if it’s OK with the HIFF board.”

The idea to re-introduce the film festival on island was met with positive response during Tuesday’s meeting at the County of Kauai Piikoi Building, which was attended by five members of the film community.

“Hawaii has a long and proud history of great film festivals,” said Lambeth, who was the neighbor island coordinator for HIFF in 1996 to 2001.

Lambeth — a former Hanalei resident — said his goals when coming on board HIFF two years ago were to expand its education program, and give serious consideration to bringing HIFF to the neighbor island.

For its 33rd festival, in addition to screening films, HIFF will host a writers workshop, a digital media summit, panel discussions, and an acting workshop, which includes industry leaders such as Ed Harris, plus casting directors Renee Haynes and Risa Garcia.

These events will be taped and archived for a global audience.

What are the possibilities of one of these Hollywood leaders coming to Kauai?

“We can bring anything to Kauai where we can afford it and there’s a strong desire to have it and the ability of the participants,” Lambeth said.

For its re-introduction, Lambeth said a large-scale event is unlikely, but he envisions a personal event that would reach a wide range of Kauai’s community, whether it’s a panel discussion or a Screen Actors Guild member giving a presentation.

The length and dates of the event are yet to be determined, but Lambeth will be on island in late July to make an official announcement about the festival.

Lambeth also said he is interested in having two or three venues for the film — one on the North Shore, one in Lihue and one in Waimea at the Historic Theater.

“What we are trying to do, at least, is plant a seed for the committee,” Umezu said. “We will continue this dialogue, because I think this is something Kauai needs. We not only deserve it, but Kauai is ready.”

The following steps include securing funding through sponsorships, confirming the dates and venue locations, and gathering interested volunteers who would be willing to help with the festival.

The HIFF program is produced by seven staff members, plus 21 interns and 500 volunteers.

“That is why the success of Kauai will not be indicative of money, it’s really about who on the ground is passionate and have time to put toward designing to meet what you want and actually executing it.”

Lambeth pointed to the success of the HIFF festival on the Big Island, which doubled its attendance and money raised for the independent Palace Theater, which hosted the film screenings.

“I am very proud to say even without a lot of money, the program in Hilo last year was the best program in Hilo at least from 2000,” Lambeth said.

More than 99 percent of the HIFF programs will be confirmed by Sept. 1, according to Lambeth, and he is eager to bring films that Kauai residents would otherwise not be able to have access to, because they are not available through online services and don’t come to local theaters.

“As long as we have strong grassroots efforts here … HIFF can give its full power behind making the Kauai experience a wonderful experience,” Lambeth said.

People interested in volunteering can contact Umezu at aumezu@kauai.gov or call 651-1758.

• Andrea Frainier, managing editor, can be reached at 245-0427 or afrainier@thegardenisland.com.

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