Filmmaker’s directorial debut shows what hula is from the inside out
To say that Keo Woolford was surprised by the amount of success his directorial debut has been receiving would be a bit of an understatement.
A word more fitting — “overwhelming,” says Woolford, the Hawaiian native who also wrote the screenplay.
Since Woolford began showing his film, “The Haumana,” it’s been earning several awards from film festivals around the country.
“The Haumana” tells the story of a Hawaiian luau host who reconnects with the dance and culture he once left behind when he takes over as the teacher for a high school hula class.
The story is partly autobiographical, based on things that Woolford, an accomplished dancer, actor and musician, has experienced and observed as a hula dancer and as somebody from the Hawaiian culture.
He directed the film in 18 days on “micro, micro budget,” in Hawaii, working 12 to 14 hours a day, he said.
“And the community, when they got wind of this, just came out in droves and support. There were just people working from love and just contributing in so many ways,” Woolford said.
On Dec. 7, the Carlsbad Village Theatre will host two screenings at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Woolford talked about his film and why hula is more than just a dance.
Why do you think people have responded so well to the film?
It seems like, and it’s just from the reactions that I’ve been getting and from the response from people, is that it hit a nerve and people can relate to it. And Hawaii and the Hawaiian people have so much pride in our culture and where we’re from. I think also, too, because one of the reasons why I decided to do this was because I wanted to show a side of Hawaii we’re familiar with — from the inside out, because our culture and hula are so misrepresented in the global mass media.
Is that why you decided to make this film your feature directorial debut?
It really was not planned that way. I actually wrote this for myself to play the lead character because it’s based on my one-man show (“I LAND”), and as it progressed, I just felt the certain responsibility to take care and make sure the whole vision stayed in line. And because I had never directed a feature before, I just thought it would be too overwhelming to do both, play the lead and direct, but I just felt like it was more my responsibility to head, overall, (the) directing.
Was there anything specifically, that you wanted to address about hula with the film?
Overall, the general idea is that hula is so much more than what the general public has knowledge of — that hula is not just a dance. It’s life. I’ve been taught by my kumu Robert Cazimero, that everything that we do in life is expressed through the dances that we dance…Hula dancers are completely dedicated people and we take this art very seriously.
How did you become involved with hula?
When I was a kid, I would see my cousins dance and I was just completely fascinated with it, and it was just something that I was drawn to…It’s almost an indescribable feeling I get when I dance or when I’m studying because I feel so connected to the home that I’m from.
Have you seen the perception of hula dancing change since you’ve been involved with it?
Because I’m on the inside, I know the respect and reverence that we give it. But in films or TV, it’s still the side that I guess is kind of the allure to Hawaii and not necessarily the traditional. But I see around the globe…it’s even more so now that the film is out, that there are people all over the world who are really studying, that (are) trying to keep up the tradition in the way that it is.
What would say differentiates the hula dancing of tourist shows from the more traditional hula dances at festivals?
I think the big difference is that every mele or every song that is danced in the traditional style has a very, very deep and specific meaning. And the things that are in the hula shows tend to be more flashy and superficial. And I’m saying this without judgment because those are both two sides of the culture.
How did you go about selecting the music in the film?
I wrote quite a bit of the songs. But the composer (George Gibi Del Barrio) I worked very closely with the composer who is this brilliant musician/composer and because of the scope of the film, I wanted to keep it simple, and I wanted to keep it traditional. So he used traditional instruments; he used ukulele and he mixed it in with strings and orchestrations.