Our Picks: 13 Must-See Movies at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival

Listen up, film buffs! The 36th annual festival runs Nov. 3–13 at Dole Cannery and other venues around town.

With more than 150 films and events packed into 10 days, the 36th annual Hawai‘i International Film Festival is a beast to tackle. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re into learning about GMOs, going behind the scenes of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, the hunt for a lost Oscar-winning film or a panty-stealing super villain. We scoured the program to bring you our top picks of must-see films this year, from a Studio Ghibli collab to the story of local surf photographer Jon Mozo. Tickets are on sale now online and in person at the HIFF Box Office. All screenings are held at Dole Cannery unless otherwise noted.


Box office hours: Now through Nov. 2, 2 to 6 p.m. daily (closed Sunday), at 680 ‘Iwilei Road, Suite 100; Nov. 3–13, 60 minutes before the first screening until 15 minutes after the last screening begins, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 & IMAX Foyer, 735 ‘Iwilei Road; 447-0577.


The Last Princess

Kicking off the festival is the tale of Deokhye, the last princess of the Korean Empire, who is forced to leave her country under Japanese rule and denied re-entry. Based on a true story, this film is chock-full of drama.

Thursday, Nov. 3, 8 p.m.


Sadako vs. Kayako

In 2003, Freddy fought Jason. In 2004, it was Alien against Predator. The horror crossover to end all crossovers? The ghosts from the Japanese versions of The Ring and The Grudge franchises. But it’s not all chills and thrills—expect some laughs as Sadako and Kayako battle it out on the big screen.

Friday, Nov. 4, 9 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 12, 8:45 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., Regal Kapolei


If you loved Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in the latest Star Wars film, you’ll get a kick out of him as a quiet but affable bus driver named Paterson in the city of, no joke, Paterson. Though his life may seem simple, the poetry that surrounds him, from the conversations he overhears to his relationship with his wife to the words he jots in his notebook, speaks volumes.

Saturday, Nov. 5, 5:30 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 11, 5:45 p.m.



This documentary follows three “Dreamers”—undocumented youth illegally brought to the U.S. as children—who are attempting to reunite with their deported families as well as become American citizens. There will be a discussion led by HPU professor Carlos Juarez after the screening on Nov. 9—the day after the presidential election, which could dramatically impact immigration policy in the U.S.

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 6 p.m.; Thursday, Nov. 10, 4 p.m.


Mele Murals

If you’ve walked through Kaka‘ako in the past few years, you’re familiar with the works of artists Estria and Prime, two major players in the annual Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i festival. How do art and Hawaiian culture intersect to change lives? Find out in this documentary, which is up for a Halekūlani Golden Orchid Award. If you want to really experience what the film is about, go to Ward Village at 4 p.m. on Nov. 6. There will be live painting and music before a screening in the IBM Building Courtyard at 7 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m., IBM Building Courtyard; Tuesday, Nov. 8, 3 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 12, 5:30 p.m., Regal Kapolei


Transcend: The Jon Mozo Story

Beloved local surf photographer, the late Jon Mozo, spent most of his life in the ocean, even after suffering a shark attack in 1993. During his life he acknowledged that the ocean had given him so much but would, one day, take, and he would give. That happened on Feb. 9, 2005, when he was found underwater at Pipeline, unconscious with head injuries. His death rocked the surf community but inspired many, including his daughter Amber, who is now a photographer herself. See this tribute, directed by Mozo’s wife, Nikki, and Devin Graham, for a look at his lasting legacy.

Monday, Nov. 7, 6 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 12, 11:30 a.m.; Sunday, Nov. 13, 3 p.m., Regal Kapolei


Hearing is Believing

Hawai‘i-born producer/director Lorenzo DeStefano brings this moving portrait of a blind young woman with a gift for performing and composing music, Rachel Flowers, to the festival. If you’re impressed by what you hear in the film, Flowers will perform three shows in Honolulu: Two at the Blue Note on Nov. 9, at 6:30 and 9 p.m., and one at Medici’s in Mānoa Marketplace on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 5:45 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 11, 1:30 p.m.



Get out the tissues, folks: This is the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young Indian boy who is accidentally separated from his family at age 5 and is adopted by an Australian couple living in Tasmania. Years later, as a young adult, Saroo is determined to find his original home—and does so using Google Earth. Dev Patel stars alongside Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara in the centerpiece film of the festival.

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 13, noon



Part of the Southeast Asian Showcase, this film explores the complicated situation in which a correctional officer, Aiman, finds himself when the chief executioner asks him to become his apprentice. Monkey wrench—the executioner was responsible for Aiman’s father’s death. The suspenseful trailer reveals why this was Singapore’s entry to the upcoming Academy Awards.

Thursday, Nov. 10, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 13, 1:15 p.m.


A Midsummer’s Hawaiian Dream

Remember when She’s the Man (starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum) spoofed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and it was hilarious? Here’s a local attempt at a similar feat, this time taking on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Instead of lovers in the forest, there are anthropologists on Kaua‘i searching for an ancient artifact. Instead of Puck, there’s Puka, played by Augie T. The film was produced by Island Film Group, which also did Pali Road, Soul Surfer and Princess Ka‘iulani.

Thursday, Nov. 10, 8:15 p.m.


Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

You may remember the headlines from 2007: “Family watches fatal exorcism”; “Exorcism death shocks archdeacon.” Janet Moses, a 22-year-old mother living in Wainuiomata, New Zealand, died after being subjected to four days of a spiritual ceremony aimed to cleanse her of a curse, when she was held under water by members of her family and drowned. This documentary film combines a dramatic retelling with police interviews to explore how this “crime of love” occurred.

Friday, Nov. 11, 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 13, 11:15 a.m.


The Red Turtle

Studio Ghibli fans, stop your tears—the animation studio is not dead! In fact, it’s teamed up with the French-German Wild Bunch company and Dutch-British animator/director Michaël Dudok de Wit for its first international co-production. In the film, a man stranded on a deserted island tries to leave but is constantly stopped by a large red turtle. Expect a lot of magic and no dialogue.

Saturday, Nov. 12, 1 p.m.


Your Name

The closing night film is a beautifully animated fantasy story based on an award-winning novel by Makoto Shinkai, who also directed it. Like a Japanese Freaky Friday, the movie is about two strangers who wake up in each other’s bodies and try to help each other out, but there’s a twist. No spoilers, but we will say it’s heartfelt, moving and a visual treat. (And don’t worry—it’ll have subtitles.)

Sunday, Nov. 13, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.