Feature Filmmakers: Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson of “Kumu Hina”

Kumu Hina, Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson

Kumu Hina, Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson

Most notably recognized for their work on Out in the Silence, a powerful film about the quest for inclusion of LGBT folks in rural America, Emmy Award-winning directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson proudly bring their latest film, Kumu Hina, to Maui for the first time tonight at 6pm (Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center). (Click here to purchase tickets and avoid lines at the venue.)

In Kumu Hina, the respected and beloved kumu hula and cultural scholar Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu shares her unique world to illuminate the joys and struggles of an extraordinary transgender native-Hawaiian teacher who embodies the ancient tradition called “mahu”.

Dean and Joe graciously took a moment (in the middle of their recent world travels with the film) to tell us some more about their involvement in the film, and we’re happy to share it with you!

This is a film experience not to be missed, and the filmmakers, along with Hina herself, will be in attendance! 

Q: How did your film come to be?

A: We met Hina as we were finishing a two-year campaign for fairness and equality for LGBT people across rural and small town America based on our film ʻOut In The Silence.’ We were immediately captivated by Hinaʻs presence as well as who she is and how she lived her life. And we were stunned by the differences between Hawaiʻi and the continental U.S. in terms of acceptance and inclusion of an openly transgender woman in the community. She is not just a prominent teacher, but also a highly-respected cultural and community leader. We knew that her story, and the way that things play out in Hawaiʻi, would be an inspiring vision to share with the world.

Q: How important is this film? And why?

A: The film is important, first and foremost, because it presents, for the first time, Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, speaking about life, love, and gender and sexuality from their perspectives, through their voices and real-life experiences, without observation, commentary or analysis by outsiders.

As Chris Lee, a Hawaiʻi native who is former head of Columbia TriStar Pictures put it: “KUMU HINA is a fascinating and universal love story that shows a side of Hawaiʻi that no one has ever seen on film before.”

Additionally, although there have been other high profile films about transgender and gender nonconforming people over the years, they have tended to focus on the prejudice, discrimination, and hostility that trans people face, rather than on their abilities and accomplishments. From Paris Is Burning to The Brandon Teena Story, from Two Spirits to Southern Comfort, viewers have been introduced again and again to the ways in which people with differing gender identities and expressions have been marginalized, excluded, bullied, beaten, raped, and killed.

Kumu Hina turns this paradigm on its head by portraying a world that recognizes those who display both male and female characteristics as gifted and special. A world where transgender people are visible, included and honoured. A world where youth who are searching for their own creative forms of gender expression are embraced and encouraged to be themselves rather than to hide in fear or pretend they are just like everyone else.

Q: Are we telling enough of these types of stories?

A: No, we are not. When was the last time you saw a film about a queer Pacific islander? Or a positive story about a trans person? There are many more such stories that need to be told, from places near and far, and they need to be lifted up and given opportunities for audiences to find and enjoy them.

Q: Did you learn anything memorable in the process of making the film?

A: We learned something very profound — what Hina calls in the film “the true meaning of aloha.” And this nugget of Hawaiian cultural wisdom, that has the potential to transform individuals, families, institutions of every kind, and communities around the world, is why people need to see the film, and what has inspired us to create the global campaign for gender diversity and inclusion known as #APlaceintheMiddle.

Q: What do you think our Maui audiences will appreciate about your film?

A: Local people in Maui have a deep understanding of and appreciation for Hawaiian culture, so we’re sure they will really ʻgetʻ Kumu Hina, and will feel particularly drawn to the amazing young girl she inspires to rise and claim her place as leader of their schoolʻs all-male hula troupe. Visitors to Maui will get to see a side of Hawai’i that has never been seen before on film. They will return home with a new appreciation of Pacific Islander culture.

Q: What is your connection to Maui?

A: Hina has deep family roots in Maui. Her mother’s side of the family still has many members on the island, so this is something of a homecoming for her.

Q: What do you hope audiences take from the film?

A: That Pacific Islanders have a wonderful way of dealing with gender that the whole world could learn from. We hope that audiences will see themselves in these stories from Hawaiʻi and join in the cause to make #APlaceintheMiddle for those who may be considered unwelcome outsiders in their own communities.

Q; Tell me more about the empowerment campaign?

A: The film’s emphasis on stories that illuminate positive understandings of cultural inclusion and gender fluidity make it a powerful tool for raising awareness of gender oppression and exclusion, and advancing the emerging global movement for transgender visibility, acceptance, and rights, particularly in schools.

Our ambitions are to empower gender fluid youth and adults to reach their full potential; prompt educational institutions to be inclusive and respectful of all students; and help families, communities, policymakers and other leaders understand that gender nonconforming people have always been part of the human family and are deserving of full acceptance and equal treatment. We aim to find ways to pierce public consciousness with these empowering stories, opening up new opportunities for engaging audiences in the exploration of cultural and personal identity, belonging, participation, leadership, independence, love, struggle, and ‘the true meaning of aloha,’ especially in places not usually included in discussions on important issues of the day, let alone in a Hawaiian and/or Pacific Island context.

Weʻll be launching a Kickstarter Campaign very soon to help raise funds to support these efforts, and we hope folks in Maui will stay tuned and help spread the word!


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.