What to Watch at the 2020 Hawai‘i International Film Festival This Month

Watch hard-to-find features, cinema star panels, a lumpia superhero, a pidgin “Breakfast Club” and more than 170 streaming films through November 29.


Waikiki Hiff 9 23 2020 Poster

Waikīkī, written and directed by Chris Kahunahana, makes its hometown premiere. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



The Hawai‘i International Film Festival started out as a scrappy, creative showcase of films you might not see elsewhere, especially those that focus on Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific themes. Then add a dose of quirky international flair. Four decades later, that innovative, can-do spirit can be found in a pandemic pivot with reinvented formats and more than 200 films from 25 countries, and 17 world premieres.



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Cane Fire explores Kaua‘i’s past and present through four generations. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



There are drive-in movies, special events and screenings that provide a socially distant way to get out out of the house and see a movie but many, many more available online. The Made in Hawai‘i lineup includes fiction and nonfiction. Hawaiian Soul tells the story of musician and activist George Helm during the Hawaiian renaissance. And Cane Fire, a documentary, focuses on four generations grappling with the past and present of changing Kaua‘i.


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Waikīkī shows the beauty and reality of life in modern Hawai‘i as the characters take an unexpected journey. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



The closing night film will be the hometown premiere of Waikīkī, written and directed by Chris Kahunahana, starring Danielle Zalopany and Peter Shinkoda, showing characters with a mixture of mystery and gritty reality against the backdrop of the world-famous resort community.


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Aloha Surf Hotel takes a comic turn. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



Other world premieres include: Aloha Surf Hotel,  a new comedy from Maui-based director Stefan Schaefer starring Augie Tulba, just elected to the Honolulu City Council; Water Like Fire, an indie drama about a sister and brother reuniting after past trauma, directed by Mitchel Viernes; and Ka Huaka‘i: The Journey to Merrie Monarch.


Story Game

Story Game is a thriller shot in Hawai‘i and Tokyo, premiering at Hawai‘i International Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF/Talk Story Productions



Story Game is a thriller/horror genre flick, produced and filmed in Hawai‘i and Tokyo, starts off at a remote campsite on O‘ahu’s North Shore, then transports viewers to modern-day and old Japan, where eerie, dark tales unfold as three friends try to outwit each other with their best obake (supernatural/ghost) stories. This is the Hawai‘i premiere, producers say, with the film already booked for distribution in Japan and recently showcased at the American Film Market.

Here’s a sampling of what else HIFF’s got going:


Special Events


Hawai‘i-born Jason Scott Lee appeared in Disney’s Mulan. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.: A Conversation with Jason Scott Lee will include the actor talking story about his career: from his bit part in Back To The Future Part II to his over-the-top workout regimen to play Bori Khan in Mulan, growing up in Hawai‘i, Hollywood and what’s next for him on the big and small screens. Free tickets to the online talk are available here.


Da Breakfast Kine Club

Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



Thursday, Nov. 19, 6 p.m. Da Breakfast Kine Club provides a local spin on an ’80s classic film. Yes, it’s a live stage reading of the classic John Hughes coming-of-age film, but this time you can hear about that Saturday in detention in pidgin. It’s directed by Hawai‘i-born actor/comedian and improv specialist Kimee Balmilero with guests from the Honolulu theater community. Register here.  Tickets are free but contributions to Coronacare Hawai‘i are encouraged.


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Lumpia with a Vengeance. Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions



Thursday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m., Lumpia with a Vengeance, Ala Moana Center drive-in. This action/comedy is a sequel to a campy 2003 film that includes relevant social issues as well as an unlikely superhero, a lumpia-armed avenger who teams up with high school student Rachel to prevent a crime syndicate from selling drugs masked as the Filipino specialty.


$30 for admission for two, $10 each additional adult, $8 child ages 3-11. Maximum five per vehicle, Ala Moana Center drive-in venue, second level between Neiman Marcus and Macy’s.


Saturday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m. Shadow in the Cloud, a thriller from New Zealand, directed by Roseanne Liang. The film is primarily set on a bomber plane in the sky, a thrill ride inspired by classic episodes of both The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories, that include a badass pilot and a powerful feminist message.


$30 for admission for two, $10 each additional adult, $8 child ages 3-11. Maximum five per vehicle, Windward Mall drive-in, level of mauka side parking structure, off of Alaloa Street.  


The Girl Who Left Home

The Girl Who Left Home. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



Sunday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m. The Girl Who Left Home, Consolidated Mililani. This live-action musical follows a woman who gets a dreaded call after she lands a role in an off-Broadway production. Returning home after her father dies, she jumps into the family restaurant business to help out.


Other Picks to Watch

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MLK/FBI, a documentary that examines the FBI’s surveillance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Photo: Courtesy of HIFF



MLK/FBI. A co-centerpiece of the festival, this is a documentary that presents J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless surveillance campaign of harassment against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., an early appearance of “fake news.”


Weed & Wine. This is the Hawai‘i premiere of a documentary that features two families with different crops and approaches: a French family caring for their historic vineyard and a California family overseeing a legal organic cannabis farm.

Awards Aplenty

As part of the annual HIFF tradition, the festival is hosting panel conversations with industry luminaries and will recognize outstanding artists for their commitment to excellence in their field at the HIFF Awards Gala presented by Halekūlani. This year’s artists include Keala Settle, Jason Scott Lee and Ann Hui, who will be honored in a virtual awards gala on Sunday, Nov. 29 at noon.


Hong Kong auteur Ann Hui is this year’s recipient of the Halekūlani Golden Maile for Career Achievement. “It is astounding and problematic that it took film festivals like HIFF and Venice so many years to recognize the mastery of Ann Hui, compared to her male colleagues,” says HIFF artistic director Anderson Le. Three of Huiʻs films are in this yearʻs lineup. “Films like Boat People, Song of the Exile and A Simple Life clearly present a clear humanistic vision of a constantly transforming Hong Kong that Ann Hui has successfully captured in her many decades of chronicling such stories that are also a reflection of her very own upbringing as a Hong Konger who also inhabits multiple worlds.”


The HIFF Pacific Islanders in Communications Trailblazer Award this year goes to actress Keala Settle. She gained fame in the musical drama The Greatest Showman in 2017 after various roles in multiple companies. The song “This Is Me” from the film won the 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. Since then, she toured in Hairspray and appears next in All My Life, directed by Marc Meyers. Born in Hawai‘i, the actress/singer is a graduate of Kahuku High School.


Jason Scott Lee is being honored with the HIFF Legacy Award. While he’s perhaps best known for playing Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Mowgli in 1994’s The Jungle Book and starring in Rapa Nui, he is a longtime HIFF supporter and advocate. Bonus trivia item: Lee’s mother was a HIFF volunteer for many years.



The Info

You can watch any online film at any time, unless specified. The festival dates are Nov. 5–29. Most content is available during that time; you can also refer to the online schedule page to get dates and access restrictions. If you purchase a single ticket to a particular film, you have 72 hours from the time you first hit play. Certain films do not follow this rule as they are only available during certain hours. Online screens start at $8 each, in-person shows at $14. Passes, which start at $80, offer the best bang for your film buck. The in-person screenings maintain social distancing so only up to 30% of the theater is sold and face coverings are required throughout the films. All tickets are sold in advance, not at theaters.


More online at hiff.org, on Facebook, and on Instagram