Stephanie Castillo, 72, of Wailua Homesteads, is an Emmy-Award-winning documentary filmmaker and a former journalist who returned to Kaua‘i last year after finishing a seven-year film project in New York.
Castillo is one of the women filmmakers in Hawai‘i being honored on TV this month by PBS Hawai‘i, and was featured as a guest April 21 on a “Long Story Short” episode with Leslie Wilcox.
Castillo is an independent filmmaker who has raised more than $2 million for film projects.
She has a long list of award-winning documentary films she developed for PBS and for nonprofits over more than 30 years.
She was awarded a $200,000 grant by the state Legislature in 1991 for her documentary film “Simple Courage.” Castillo graduated high school from the American School in Manila, Philippines, and got her bachelor’s degree in journalism and her executive master’s degree in business administration at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, after attending Kaua‘i Community College.
The college isn’t Castillo’s only tie to Kaua‘i. Her grandfather and grandmother came to the island from the Philippines in the early 1900s, and made a home in Kapahi.
“He was a professional cockfighter, and she a card player at the chicken fights. They had three children. My father Wallace was the oldest, and had a military career in the U.S. Army,” said Castillo.
Castillo now heads the Hawai‘i-based Olena Productions, and has partners in Washington D.C., New York and Europe. She is also part of the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, Hawai‘i International Film Festival and the Garden Island Film Festival, and has worked in ministry on multimedia teams with churches like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. She’s also rubbed elbows with a few film celebrities.
“I directed Robin Williams when he narrated my biographical film about Father Damien, ‘An Uncommon Kindness,’” she said. “I was a radio disc jockey in high school for a rock station in Manila, and my air name was ‘Shakey Shacks.’”
Castillo was a journalist for five years at The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, where she honed her storytelling skills. The idea for the film “Simple Courage” was the catalyst for Castillo leaving the newsroom and creating her first documentary.
That first documentary film, “Simple Courage,” was co-produced with PBS Hawai‘i and finished in 1992. It drew parallels between Hansen’s disease and the major health crisis — the AIDS epidemic — at the time of the film’s release.
It won an Emmy.
Among the list of documentaries and co-productions she’d like to finish is a documentary telling the story of the Hanapepe Massacre of 1924.
“It’s about a dark past that raises its ugly head in bright sunny Hawai‘i,” Castillo said. “An unmarked grave of 16 slain Filipino sugarcane workers is found on October 20, 2019. What happened? Who were they? Why were they killed? And why was their grave left unmarked for almost a century?”
She continued: “And then there’s the big question, why should we care?”
Castillo said this story has “degenerated into myths, hegends and hearsay,” and has been digging into the history of what really happened at the Hanapepe Massacre.
Aside from working on the Hanapepe Massacre mystery, Castillo is currently writing a book about her 30 years of film-making experiences, entitled “When Art and Spirit Meet.”
Castillo has her own views on the next generation of filmmakers and documenting the pandemic.
“It’s time for the young ones to do that work. Step up. I’m doing my 11th (film), and this is probably my last big one,” she said.
Stephanie Shinno, features and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.