Steven Yeun appears in Minari by Lee Isaac Chung
Steven Yeun appears in Minari by Lee Isaac Chung

The 40th edition of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival set to open on November 5th through the 29th, will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual screenings, with over 200 films from 25 countries, and 17 world premieres.

The festival will open with MINARI, the critically acclaimed feature written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. The film made it its world premiere at Sundance 2020, where it won both the Grand Jury Price and Audience Award. This coming-of-age American drama stars Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton. MINARI follows a Korean American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in 1969 in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother and the story then takes place over the next couple of years.

“This has been an enormously difficult year for nonprofits, artists and arts organizations, and creative entrepreneurs in Hawai’i. While our 40th anniversary isn’t the grand experience we had been planning, I could not be more proud and excited to announce our Festival lineup.” says HIFF Executive Director, Beckie Stocchetti. “For our 40th anniversary, the HIFF lineup is a statement on the perseverance and resilience of Hawai‘i’s community and entrepreneurial spirit. In an unexpected Festival year, we are proud to have pivoted our theater experience into a top-tier streaming experience, maintain all of our education programs, our free virtual reality program, and even increase our industry panels and Q&A’s. And we are thrilled to extend our Festival offerings online to audiences and cinema enthusiasts across the nation, and offer even more reach for our local Made in Hawaii program films and Pacific Island creative content. Our Made in Hawai‘i program has more films than in the four year history of the program, and we are eager to bring Hawai‘i to you in this year of restricted travel.”

This year’s Made In Hawai‘i program includes:

The world premiere of HAWAIIAN SOUL, written and directed by ʻĀina Paikai, which tells the story of George Helm, a talented musician that used his gift of song to become a leader in the movement to protect Hawaiian land and Native Hawaiian rights, what is now referred to today as the Hawaiian Renaissance.

The documentary feature CANE FIRE, directed by Anthony Banua-Simon, examines the past and present of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, interweaving four generations of family history, numerous Hollywood productions, and troves of found footage to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of the economic and cultural forces that have cast indigenous and working-class residents as “extras” in their own story.

HIFF will present the hometown premiere of WAIKIKI, and also present it as the Festival’s Closing Night Gala. Written and directed by Chris Kahunana, the film stars Danielle Zalopany and Peter Shinkoda (DAREDEVIL, GO FOR BROKE, HIFF37). The narrative feature follows a hula dancer and a broken spirit of a man, as they begin a journey into a hidden world, developing a connection through humanity, nature, and culture.

A total of 7 feature-length films–including the world premieres of narrative features ALOHA SURF HOTEL, a new comedy from Maui-based director Stefan Schaefer and starring Augie Tulba; WATER LIKE FIRE, an indie drama about a sister and brother reuniting after a past trauma directed by Mitchel Viernes; a special presentation of KA HUAKAʻI: THE JOURNEY TO MERRIE MONARCH, which HIFF will make available online and worldwide. In partnership with Hawaiian Airlines and Nella Media Group, KA HUAKAʻI: THE JOURNEY TO MERRIE MONARCH follows three hula practitioners on their journey to the Merrie Monarch stage; and STORY GAME, an East meets West horror anthology directed by Jason Lau from local production company Talk Story Productions. A record 18 locally-made short films, including the award-winning animated KAPAEMAHU from Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson and Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (KUMU HINA) and Ohina Short Film Lab’s RED HOUSE directed by Gerard Elmore, will also be made available nationwide online.

The New American Perspectives program shines a spotlight on the contributions of immigrant filmmakers to contemporary cinema in the United States, and supports the inclusion of films by foreign-born filmmakers, screenwriters, and producers at the festival.

In 2020, the artists and films presented as part of the New American Perspectives program include:

Valerie Castillo-Martinez, screenwriter, DEATH OF NINTENDO (b. Philippines)
Yi Chen, director, FIRST VOTE (b. China)
Steven Yeun, executive producer, actor, MINARI (b. South Korea)
Bassam Tariq, director, MOGUL MOWGLI (b. Pakistan)
Hao Wu, director of 76 DAYS (b. China)

FIRELIGHT AND THE MELTING POT: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE will be a unique 3 day panel series at HIFF, focused on films challenging and expanding notions of race and equality in Hawai‘i and the US. In collaboration with Firelight Media, an organization dedicated to supporting non-fiction BIPOC filmmakers telling stories about communities of color, these free panels offer a space to reflect on Black Lives Matter and social justice movements towards a more fair, equitable world.

Rounding out the list of films, available for national audiences, are a mix of festival darlings from Toronto Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and from the Asia-Pacific. Highlights include:

#HANDBALLSTRIVE, directed by Daigo Matsui, begins with a social media post by high school students living an uninspired lives after the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake. Before long, they come to realize what they really want to do and what it means to live in this place.

76 DAYS is a documentary set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The film captures the struggles and human resilience in the battle to survive the pandemic in Wuhan, China. It is directed by Hao Wu (PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE, HIFF38 Grand Prize Winner), Weixi Chen and Anonymous.

BEAUTY WATER, directed by Kyung-hun Cho, is an animated horror-thriller that examines a girl’s downward spiral when receives an unexpected package containing a sample and video for a mysterious beauty product. After viewing the shocking video, Yaeji is both horrified and enticed.

LOIMATA: THE SWEETEST TEARS directed by Anna Marbrook honors the last voyage of the great waka maker, sailor and mentor Ema Siope, whose journeys between Aotearoa and Sāmoa in search of healing, and her family’s reckoning with systemic abuse, are powerfully documented.

NEW ORDER, a narrative feature from Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco (DANIEL AND ANA; AFTER LUCIA; CHRONIC), is a riveting and prescient dystopian drama that serves as a disquieting cautionary tale for a society marked by extreme class divisions. The film won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the recently concluded Venice Film Festival, where it world premiered.

NIGHT OF THE KINGS, written and directed by Philippe Lacôte refuses all genre expectations, flowing between a prison drama and visually stunning sequences that depict Roman’s elaborate tale. Further incorporating song and dance (and a cameo by the iconic Denis Lavant last seen in HOLY MOTORS), the film is a mesmerizing meditation on the art of storytelling and its role in survival.

THE PAPER TIGERS follows three former Kung Fu prodigies known as The Three Tigers who have grown old and lost their fighting abilities and connections to Kung Fu. This feature-length debut from writer/director Bao Tran blends a perfect mix of action, drama, and comedy to create a lighthearted and fun film, with some life lessons underneath.

Additional offerings for the nationwide audience will be the 2020 lineup for HIFF XR. Audiences can enjoy HIFF XR safely at home, a dynamic showcase of creative works in emerging media — virtual reality, video games, live streaming, and more. A special free live streaming panel with Taiwanese transmedia filmmaker John Hsu will be presented as part of HIFF XR in partnership with the annual SPOTLIGHT ON TAIWAN presented by Ministry of Culture ROC and Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles. Hsu is best known for his early work in producing machinima videos, then onto his award-winning VR pieces YOUR SPIRITUAL TEMPLE SUCKS and GREAT HOAX: THE MOON LANDING, and for his hit genre film DETENTION, a live-action feature adaptation of a popular videogame.

In an effort to reignite the local economy, HIFF will partner with Consolidated Theaters to present limited in-person screenings on Oahu. HIFF will have programming, on select dates at: Consolidated Mililani With Titan Luxe, Consolidated Pearlridge, Consolidated Kapolei and ‘Olino by Consolidated Theatres with Titan Luxe. Programming at these venues will include:

MLK/FBI (Co-Centerpiece) The latest film from noted documentary filmmaker Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI presents a clear lens on examining J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, when MLK is celebrated as a civil rights hero, across both political aisles, it is jarring to confront the hate and “fake news” campaign mounted by federal agents who painted him as an enemy of the state.

I AM GRETA (Co-Centerpiece) This documentary, directed by Nathan Grossman, follows Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old student in Sweden, globally known for her environmental activism. The film culminates in a harrowing sailboat ride that Greta and her father Svante take over the Atlantic Ocean to attend two UN climate summits in September 2019. Over this transformational year, we witness the forces that seek to lift her up and tear her down.

AMMONITE from acclaimed British director Francis Lee (GOD’S OWN COUNTRY) is a forbidden-love story between Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan). The film captures the potent chemistry between Winslet and Ronam. The film is both vital and austere, not unlike the fossilized sea creature that gives the film its title and poignant symbol.

The International premiere of BABY DONE, executive produced by Taika Waititi (JOJO RABBIT; THOR: RAGNAROK; HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE), is a Kiwi-infused comedy that stars Rose Matafeo (THE BREAKER UPPERS). Wannabe-adventurer and free spirit Zoe and her longtime boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis) run a tree-trimming business and are also competitive tree climbers, set to fly to Canada to compete in the annual competition.

THE BEST IS YET TO COME directed by Jing Wang follows the true story of how one man altered the fate of 120 million people with his pen.Young writer Han Dong has moved to the big city hoping to make it big. So when a reporter at Jingcheng Daily takes him on as an intern, he feels his luck is changing. And when he happens upon an illegal scheme to hide positive Hepatitis B blood results he believes he has struck journalistic gold.

I’M YOUR WOMAN is the latest film from director Julia Hart (FAST COLOR; STAR GIRLl) and award winning producer Jordan Horowitz (LA LA LAND), The narrative feature is a decidedly female take on 1970s crime dramas starring Rachel Brosnahan (Emmy winner for THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL), who also dons producing duties for this film. Hart deftly directs this film as a tale of love, betrayal, motherhood, family, and what it takes to claim your life as your own.

Also screening in the theaters and also limited online will be the world premiere of LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE; the long awaited action-comedy featuring former UFC fighter Mark Muñoz, April Absynth, Darion Basco, and Danny Trejo (MACHETE, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN). A sequel of the 2003 Filipino American cult-favorite, LUMPIA, which had its world premiere at HIFF 17 years ago, LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE is a testament to homegrown, community-sourced indie filmmaking produced by artists who are taking ownership of their own place in geek pop culture.

The world premiere of TOUGE: THE LAST SAMURAI, from director Takashi Koizumi, assistant to the legendary Akira Kurosawa, is a beautiful samurai film based on a popular novel by Ryotaro Shiba. Starring Koji Yakusho, Touge: The Last Samurai tells the true story of a samurai who led his country to fight against the new regime with honor and dignity at the end of the Tokugawa era. Shot entirely on lush 35mm film, Touge offers a philosophical take on a lost way of life.

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