A tourist from the mainland comes to Hawaii to see the volcano. She hires two guys pretending to be tour guides.
What follows is humorous, touching, revealing and uplifting — and it hits close to home, no matter where you live.
And nothing, really, stays the same.
“This film is very much about the healing power of change,” said Zoe Eisenberg, who co-directed, wrote and produced the made-in-Hawaii independent film, “Stoke,” that shows tonight at 6:30 at the Historic Waimea Theatre as part of today’s Waimea Film Festival.
“It’s a lot like this island itself,” she said in a phone interview with The Garden Island.
The drama was shot on Hawaii Island in 2017, with mostly a Hawaii-based cast, and a Hawaii-made soundtrack. “Stoke” tells a different kind of story about tourism on Hawaii Island, which draws visitors from all around the world who hope to be moved by the presence of the Kilauea volcano.
“Stoke” will screen as the closing film of the Waimea Film Festival, and the directors will be in attendance for a brief question-and-answer session.
It follows Jane, a struggling tourist who hires two wannabe guides to take her to an active volcano. The road-trip film was partially shot in front of Kilauea volcano’s famous 2017 “lava hose,” a 40-foot river of lava pouring into the Pacific Ocean.
Stoke, rated R for language and brief nudity, premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival, won the Best Women in Film award at the Austin Indie Fest, an Award of Merit through the IndieFest Film Awards, and will be featured in the upcoming Women of Wonders film festival on Oahu.
“Alive with vivid Hawaiian landscapes, ‘Stoke’ dips from playful to dark as the characters journey from one end of Hawaii Island to the other en route to the volcano,” according to a press release. “While Jane (Caitlin Holcombe) struggles to let go of a grievous past, tension grows as Dusty (Ka‘uhane Lopes) and Po (Randall Galius Junior) grapple with the tourism industry created by their volcano until an untimely detour sends the group in an unexpected direction.”
Also featured in the 87-minute film are Hawaii-based actors Kimee Balmilero (“Hawaii Five-0,” “Magnum P.I.”) and Po‘okela Award winner Danielle Zalopany.
“Stoke’s” soundtrack features the work of Willie K, Bub Pratt, Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu, Keali‘i Reichel, Anthony Garza, Uncle’s Awa band and more.
“Our team is really excited to screen on Kauai for the first time,” says the film’s co-director Phillips Payson, who will be in attendance at the event alongside co-director Eisenberg.
Lopes said the making of “Stoke,” his first film, was a great experience.
“There is, to a degree, a lot of truthfulness in it,” he said.
His character his very straightforward and truthful, playful at heart, and a lady’s man at the same time.
There are such moments when a local meets a tourist and takes them around the island.
“It’s a pretty good portrayal of a local boy,” he said.
Lopes had not acted before this film. The 22-year-old recently became a model when he was encouraged to audition for a role in “Stoke.”
He did, and landed it.
“Whatever I do, I do it to the best of my capabilities,” he said.
He admits it took some extra time to feel comfortable in front of the camera.
“I did take the most time to get my scenes done,” he said, laughing. “Everyone was patient with me.”
Lopes has family on Kauai, and many will be at tonight’s showing of “Stoke,” a refreshing film he’s proud to be in.
“I truly feel like the main message is, no matter where you come from, no matter what pain you might be dealing with, there’s always hope,” he said. “There is never a time you should ever quit.”
Eisenberg said the idea for “Stoke” came when she was working on another documentary about the lava flow and kept hearing similar stories about people being drawn to Hawaii to see it.
Before shooting the film, she talked to people born on Hawaii Island regarding how they felt about “lava tourism.” As expected, many didn’t like it.
She wanted to tell a story that was sensitive to the people and the island.
“Pre-production for ‘Stoke’ began in June 2016. In response to the frustration in the Hawaiian community of cinema’s tendency to whitewash Hawaiian characters (“Aloha,” 2015 and “The Descendants,” 2011), directors Eisenberg and Payson were determined to cast authentic Hawaiian actors for leads Pohaku (Galius Junior), Dusty (Lopes) and Kaila (Zalopany),” a press release said. “This brought on a six-month-long casting search along the Hawaiian islands, and ultimately led them to Galius Junior and Zalopany, award-winning players in the Oahu theater scene, and Lopes, found through a local modeling agency.”
The producers did a test screening of “Stoke” for Puna residents to see their reaction.
“They were really moved by it,” Eisenberg said. “Some said it was powerful to see their story represented on the screen.”
She is delighted it’s part of the Waimea Film Festival.
“We’re excited to have such a great opportunity to share it,” she said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.