24 Films You Won’t Want to Miss at the 2018 Hawai‘i International Film Festival

Showing more than 180 films from 35 countries, this year’s HIFF, from Nov. 8–18, has something for everyone.
Moananuiākea: One Ocean, One People, One Canoe. Directed by Nā‘ālehu Anthony.
Photos: Courtesy of HIFF


It’s that time of year again. Pumpkin spice lattes, holiday décor, and a day (or 10!) at the movies during the Hawai‘i International Film Festival presented by Halekūlani. I’ve been making it an annual tradition—as soon as the catalogs are available at my local Starbucks or Zippy’s, I snatch a copy and circle all the films I want to see in red ink. With more than 180 films from 35 countries, HIFF offers an overwhelming variety of films to choose from, and I need to be strategic if I want to make the most of the festival.



New to HIFF this year is a short film showcase honoring the late senator Daniel K. Inouye. HIFF partnered earlier this summer with the Daniel K. Inouye Institute to launch a middle and high school student short film contest that explored the late senator’s historic keynote speech from the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The student finalists will be included in a free special short film showcase on Nov. 17, with a moderated discussion to follow by actor Harry Shum Jr. (Glee, Crazy Rich Asians).


Another inaugural initiative is the HIFF VR Lounge, which will present a series of virtual reality projects from around the world at Salt At Our Kaka‘ako. Free and open to the public from Nov. 10–12, the HIFF VR Lounge invites audiences to experience life at sea in the animated short Age of Sail, our ocean reefs in Chasing Coral: The VR Experience, the Māori culture in Finding Haka and Hawaiian native birds long extinct in Songbird. Don’t forget to book your free seat for these VR experiences.



The opening film, Shadow, a historical action flick directed by Zhang Yimou of House of Flying Daggers fame, is a slice of war and intrigue set in China’s Three Kingdoms period. Veteran director Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, Hero) returns with this highly anticipated film that pays homage to the legends of the Three Kingdoms (Nov. 8).



This year’s centerpiece presentation is the winner of the 2018 Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary) and produced by Jim Burke (The Descendants.) Starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as Jamaican-American concert pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his security detail and driver, it’s a drama that focuses on the bonds of friendship while navigating racism in the Deep South (Nov. 14 and 17).



HIFF’s closing film, Moananuiākea: One Ocean, One People, One Canoe, is the culmination of the Hōkūle‘a’s Mālama Honua worldwide voyage, which circumnavigated the globe and sailed to more than 150 ports in 23 countries. Directed by Nā‘ālehu Anthony, this documentary follows the crew of the Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia as they voyage around the world using traditional Hawaiian navigation methods and educating through cultural exchange. It’s an inspiring narrative that weaves together footage taken over the past few years and brings the story home (Nov. 18).



Acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai will be in Hawai‘i as this year’s Filmmaker In Focus. Known for his contributions to contemporary arthouse cinema, Wong is best known for Chungking Express, an urban love story told in two parts that takes place in Hong Kong. HIFF will be screening three of his iconic films: Happy Together (Nov. 16), In The Mood For Love (Nov. 17) and Chungking Express (Nov. 15), with a special discussion with the filmmaker after the latter.


This year’s special Halekūlani awards go to the following international stars in attendance: acclaimed actress and director Moon So-ri (Career Achievement), Māori filmmaker Heperi Mita (Pacific Islanders In Communications Trailblazer) and comedic rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina (Maverick). The Awards Gala is Nov. 16 and is open to the public. You can purchase tickets here. Six awards will be given to films chosen by special juries and the audience as the best of this year’s festival. With six features and nine short films nominated, there are several worthy local contenders.



Made In Hawai‘i

For the first time, films from the ‘Ohina Short Film Showcase join other HIFF features and shorts in the Made In Hawai‘i category. These films include ‘Ohina Greenlight Award winner Kālewa, a stylish sci-fi short directed by Moanalua High School alumni Mitchel Viernes that reaches for the stars with high-tech effects. Astronaut Kainoa reflects on reconnecting with his estranged father while on a space mission that has gone horribly wrong. Will he salvage the mission and his relationship?


Equally impressive is The Moon and the Night, a coming-of-age short directed by Kamehameha Schools alumna Erin Lau. The film chronicles the complicated relationship between a teen and her father, especially after he takes her dog to compete in a dogfight.


Catch Kālewa, The Moon and the Night and other shorts in the Made In Hawai‘i Short Film Showcase on Nov. 14 and 17.



As for the feature films, fans of the animated Disney blockbuster Moana will be delighted to see it back on the big screen, this time in Hawaiian with English subtitles. Star Auli‘i Cravalho returns as the voice of Moana, with an ensemble of 24 locally cast Hawaiian-speaking actors and singers. This is the first time a Disney picture has been re-recorded in Hawaiian, and translators Puakea Nogelmeier and Kamuela Yim will lead a panel discussion using clips from the film. The showing is free to the public but you will need a ticket, so reserve your spot before they fill up (Nov. 11).



SEE ALSO: Disney’s “Moana” (and Auli‘i Cravalho) Hit A New High Note In Hawaiian


Women on the water are celebrated in Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable (Nov. 10 and 11) and Surfing To Cope (Nov. 12). Hamilton may be a household name, but professional surfer and Kaua‘i girl Brianna Cope, who was born with an underdeveloped left hand, also inspires and empowers in her story of self-acceptance.


And things take an odd turn in Stoke, a road trip flick that follows a clinically depressed attorney’s journey to the Big Island to see an active volcano (Nov. 10 and 11).


Don’t forget to support up-and-coming filmmakers in the Academy for Creative Media Night (Nov. 13). This selection of short films is produced by students in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Academy for Creative Media program. With 12 short films documenting everything from local musicians to life growing up on the neighbor islands, each draws from students’ experiences and tells stories close to home.


Globalization and Going Green

Part of the Film For Thought program, Eating Up Easter is a nuanced look at balancing local ways of life with modernization and globalization. Director Sergio M. Rapu shares the impact of globalization and resource depletion on Rapa Nui, known to most as Easter Island. Westernization and escalating waste problems contribute to Rapa Nui’s deteriorating state. Known for a centuries-extinct culture with more mysteries than answers, the barren island of Rapa Nui is a case study in how tourism can boost the economy but create unsustainable waste and a loss of local customs (Nov. 9 and 10).


Local filmmaker and Hōkūle‘a crewmember Dan Lin partners with lauded Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner for Anointed, a short film exploring the impact of the United States’ nuclear weapons tests on the Republic of the Marshall Islands through poetry and stories. This film screens as part of the Pacific Showcase Shorts on Nov. 16 and 18.



Named after Kiribati’s president, Anote’s Ark follows president Anote Tong’s struggle to save his Pacific island nation from climate displacement (Nov. 11 and 13). 


Also worth mentioning is the Indonesian documentary GRIT, nominated for the Kau Ka Hōkū award, which is given to an emerging filmmaker from the Asia-Pacific Rim. Shot over the course of six years, GRIT documents a young girl who lost her home in a mudslide caused by a nearby drilling site. She grows into a politically active teenager who leads a resistance against the drilling company (Nov. 17 and 18).


The Future Is Female

Women are increasingly part of the narrative at large, and this theme is reflected in several of this year’s offerings. Based on a true story, Herstory brings Korean women forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military during its occupation of Korea out of the stigmatized shadows of the past, where they were often disowned and ostracized. The main characters in Herstory confront the Japanese government for war crimes committed against these “comfort women” (Nov. 16 and 18).



Almost a decade after receiving a 20-year ban on filmmaking from the Iranian government,  controversial Persian director Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film, Tehran Taxi) introduces his fourth film, 3 Faces, a reflective piece on the state of contemporary Iran and the restrictions placed on women in Iranian society. Known for smuggling This Is Not A Film to the Cannes Film Festival using a flash drive baked into a cake, Panahi creates politically charged documentaries critical of Iran and its government. Panahi was barred from leaving Iran since 2010, when he was found guilty of “colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. (Nov. 11 and 13.)


Those that appreciate a good black comedy will enjoy Woman At War (Nov. 8 and 10). A passionate environmental activist fighting the Icelandic aluminum industry seeks to find balance by adopting a child. Will she be able to let her role as the savior of the Highlands go?


From the Philippines comes Call Her Ganda, a documentary unraveling the controversy following the murder of Filipina trans woman Jennifer Laude (Nov. 9 and 11). A gripping commentary on colonialism, sexism and transphobia, it was the winner of the Best American Documentary Feature at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival.


Magic, Madness and Mystery


Veteran anime director Mamoru Hosoda invites audiences to experience magic through a child’s eyes. Fans of Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time will appreciate Hosoda’s latest film, Mirai (Nov. 14 and 17). A sweet, quirky return to childhood, Mirai tells the story of a young boy who is jarred by the arrival of his newborn sister, and the discovery of a magic portal that connects him to the past and present versions of his family.


Also hailing from Japan, 50 First Kisses reworks the Adam Sandler 50 First Dates rom-com plot for Japanese audiences, remaining relatively faithful to the original film. (Nov. 9 and 14.)


Fans of Filipino-American stand-up comedian Jo Koy will enjoy his film debut in Wake, a comedy-drama from Cyrus Mirakhor that follows a widowed mortician with agoraphobia who receives a life-size male doll as a joke. Of course, the doll comes to life and ends up making things complicated. Koy and Mirakhor will attend the screening on Nov. 18 for a post-screening Q&A.


Japanese blockbuster Inuyashiki (Nov. 12 and 14) is a sci-fi manga adaptation that tells the bizarre story of an office worker with cancer who is struck by lightning and gains superpowers, with a Transformer-like body to boot. However, he’s not the only one with newfound powers. Seems like the ultimate setup for a showdown between good and evil.


Rounding out the magic is a short animated film anthology, Modest Heroes: Ponoc Short Films Theatre, Vol. 1 (Nov. 17.) From Studio Ponoc (the magicians behind last year’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower), a group of veteran artists from the renowned Studio Ghibli, comes a trio of tales that explore ideas of heroism big and small.


Prices per film range from $10–$14, with discounts for seniors, military and students. Those looking to catch a show on a budget should opt for a $10 weekday matinee (any weekday screening before 5 p.m.) For those planning to watch several films, we recommend the HIFF Festival Pass ($425 general admission, $375 HIFF members), which includes unlimited screenings, no tickets required and priority seating. Being a HIFF member pays off, with $10 discounted tickets. Sign up for a year-long membership today!


Tickets and flash passes are on sale online (hiff.org) and in person at the HIFF Box Office. $14 general admission, $10 HIFF members, $12 senior, military and student discounts. All screenings are held at Dole Cannery unless otherwise noted. HIFF Box Office (Nov. 8–18), Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 & IMAX Foyer, 735 Iwilei Road, (808) 447-0577.


HONOLULU is a media sponsor of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival.