HIFF Celebrates 31st Anniversary

HIFF Grows Up: The film festival celebrates its 31st year.

Photo: Courtesy East West Center

Photo: Courtesy HIFF

When the young filmmaker Zhang Yimou left China for the first time in 1985 to attend the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF), he was a wide-eyed bumpkin with high pants and a crewcut. These days, he wears a tuxedo, slicks back his hair for Cannes, and makes films that cost $90 million. Over the past three decades HIFF itself has undergone a similar transformation.

 In 1981, the inaugural HIFF was a small, nerdy, academic affair, intensely focused on Asia. Under the auspices of the East-West Center through the 1980s, the festival brought together scholars, critics and filmmakers for serious discussions on topics such as comedy in cinema.

When it parted company with the East-West Center in 1991, HIFF began to bulk up, increasing the number and scope of films, and welcoming more local works.

Photo: Courtesy HIFF

It also ditched the scholarly symposia and started throwing parties. Hollywood took notice.

The 21st-century HIFF grew larger and more popular than ever, made lots of celebrity friends, and solidified its standing as a motion-picture-industry event. It’s been the U.S. premiere of quite a few eventual blockbusters and critical darlings, including The Piano, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain.

One thing hasn’t changed: The faces on the screen still look very much like the faces in the audience.

“It still feels like the Hawaii International Film Festival,” says Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, the festival’s founder and the driver who picked up Yimou at the airport in 1985. “It’s still grounded in this place.”

When: Oct. 13 to 23
Buy tickets at: Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 and Imax theaters, online at hiff.org, or by calling 447-0577.
U.S. premieres to keep an eye on this year: Busong (Palawan Fate) from the Philippines and Operation 8 from New Zealand.