Featured Filmmaker: Makana, Score Composer for documentary “Kumu Hina”

Tonight’s Hawai‘i-made documentary Kumu Hina (screening tonight, 6/5 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater at 6pm) centers around Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a respected and beloved kumu hula and cultural scholar who shares her unique world to enlighten the joys and struggles of an extraordinary transgender native Hawaiian teacher who embodies the ancient tradition called mahu.

The score for this film was composed by another extraordinary cultural figure in Hawai‘i, Makana.


Makana in the studio

Makana took a moment from his travels in Europe to tell us more about his heartfelt connection to Kumu Hina (the film and the person), and about his creative process in composing and recording the film’s breathtaking score.

Enjoy the conversation, and don’t miss an opportunity to meet and greet the film’s directors and Hina herself at tonight’s screening!

Q: How did you get involved in the Kumu Hina film? What about it appealed to you?

A: I met Kumu Hina (the person) at the Hawai’i state capitol on opening legislative day. We were both there as activists standing up for the rights of people and the land. Soon thereafter the directors of the film approached me to do the soundtrack. I was delighted not only to share my music in a new forum, but to also support someone whose story is deeply inspiring and who also stands up for the values that I hold dear to my heart.

Q: Explain to me the film scoring process. How is it different than recording an album?

A: Scoring a film requires a deep sensitivity to an existing piece of art; creating an album has no boundaries save the technical limitations of the medium. Getting to know the overall story, the characters, how their dreams and fears play out, is key to the process of scoring. The music has a supportive role rather than a feature role, and must be timed in perfect synchronicity with all events and transitions in the film. In a way it’s much trickier than just creating an album, but in another way it’s somewhat more accessible in terms of creative vision due to the existing framework that guides the process.

Q: Are there certain emotional moments in the film where the music just came to you? If so, please explain how that happened.

A: The most emotional scene in the film for me occurs when the school children are all gathered together listening to one of the other teachers scold them for being disrespectful. The teacher’s speech is so moving that everyone- including the audience- begins to cry. What she says moved me so deeply that I instantly heard music. What you hear musically underneath that scene is exactly as it came to me in that moment.

Q: The story of Kumu Hina is referred to as a story of finding “a place in the middle”. As an artist and activist, what are your thoughts on this?

A: I would rephrase the question, because as long as we think in terms of polar opposites we are in actuality exercising violence. I don’t see Kumu Hina as searching for a place in the middle so much as shining in her authenticity so that others can transcend their own limited, conditioned views on life, sex and identity. I think the film succeeds in revealing her humanity in a way that disarms prejudice and fear of the unknown and misunderstood.

Q: What is one thing that people probably don’t know about recording sound for film? Is it more challenging than it appears to be? What helps make the process easier for you?

A: There is a special intention inside of the music, as I create it for film. In a way, rather than being the “obvious” voice, as in “pop” music, I intend for it to communicate- often without lyric- the unspoken emotions of the characters onscreen. In that sense, it is exhilarating for me: I get to leave my own psyche and delve into those of the characters, and in doing so articulate emotion supportively, dancing around their dialogues and soliloquies.. there is a sublime art to that, one I look forward to exploring for many years to come. Having great characters of genuine nature inspires me to effortlessly speak to (and for) them with my music.

To learn more about Makana and his music, visit www.makanamusic.com


The Featured Filmmaker series is coordinated and written by the Maui Film Festival’s Filmmaker Liaison and Social Media Director Sara TekulaClick here to see all of the Featured FIlmmaker posts and be sure follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get live updates from the festival.