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Waterman directed by Isaac Halasima
Waterman directed by Isaac Halasima

The 2021 Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF) will open with the world premiere of Waterman directed by Isaac Halasima. The film explores the role of sports in breaking societal barriers through Duke Paoa Kahanamoku’s journey and legacy as a trailblazer, father of modern-day surfing, and five-time Olympic medalist.

Surfing legend. Olympic superstar. Hawaiian Icon. American hero. Five-time Olympic medalist and Native Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahanamoku shattered records and brought surfing to the world while overcoming a lifetime of personal challenges. Narrated by Jason Momoa, Waterman explores his journey and legacy as a legendary swimmer, trailblazer, and the undisputed father of modern-day surfing, following the sport’s first-time inclusion in this year’s Olympics – a fitting tribute to his work promoting the sport around the globe. Through Duke’s incredible athletic accomplishments and embodiment of the Aloha spirit, the film celebrates his triumphs and philosophy of inclusion, challenging us all to embrace diversity and incorporate Aloha into our own lives.

Produced by Sidewinder Films and narrated by Jason Momoa, Waterman features rare archival footage, photos, and interviews alongside commentary from surfing’s biggest stars, including newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore. Kahanamoku’s successes, struggles, and humanitarianism in the face of prejudice come together to weave a portrait of a local legend and global icon who became the face of Hawai’i.

From the film’s director, Isaac Halasima: “As the son of a Polynesian immigrant, Duke was always somebody I felt I could relate and look up to. He was one of my heroes. My Uncle Jan Fisher, the sculptor who created the famous statue of Duke on Waikiki beach, made sure that I knew Kahanamoku’s story. Before Uncle Jan passed away, he had suggested that I try to tell the story of Duke. And so I took up the rare opportunity to tell a story about a man who is part of my culture and ancestry. It’s been a long 5 year journey to finally get here, but I couldn’t be more excited to finally get this out there and help a new generation learn about the incredible Hawaiian Waterman.”

The 41st Hawai’i International Film Festival takes place November 4-14 on Oahu and November 18-21 on neighbor islands. The program includes 123 features, 100 shorts, and for the first time ever, a new episodic series program. Among the lineup are 139 Hawai’i premieres, 34 world premieres, 21 US premieres, and 11 international premieres from 36 countries. Featuring in-person screenings at our official cinema partner Consolidated Theaters, alongside online, on-demand screenings and talks at HIFF’s streaming platform, HIFF41 will be accessible to audiences all across the United States.


The Nominated MADE IN HAWAI‘I Shorts Program on Opening Day, includes the world premieres of locally-made films: ALA MOANA BOYS (dir: Kelii Grace); KA HO‘I-THE RETURN (dir: Mitchel Viernes); LAST HAWAIIAN SUGAR (dir: Déjà Cresencia Bernhardt); I WILL BE YOUR BREATH (dir: Malia Adams); RIVER OF SMALL GODS (dir: Bradley Tangonan). Overall, MADE IN HAWAI‘I section consists of 27 films!

Centerpiece Night Gala is the Hawai‘i Big Screen premiere of Christopher Makoto Yogi’s I WAS A SIMPLE MAN, which premiered at Sundance.

Special sections include an expanded GREEN SCREEN, EAT.DRINK.FILM., NEW AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, INDIGENOUS LENS + PACIFIC SHOWCASE and our largest spotlights on JAPAN and SOUTH KOREA.

Confirmed HIFF41 Honorees include Maui-born and raised director Destin Daniel Cretton (SHANG CHI, SHORT TERM 12), Writer-director Sterlin Harjo (co-creator of FX hit series RESERVATION DOGS), Oahu-born cult director Albert Pyun, writer-producer Dana Ledoux Miller (THE NEWSROOM, upcoming Netflix Thai Cave Rescue series), Hong Kong auteur Stanley Kwan (LAN YU, CENTER STAGE), and XR Featured artist and creator Sutu.

Closing Night Gala is anime maestro Mamoru Hosoda’s latest BELLE, which premiered at Cannes.

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