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Local Filmmaker Receives Worldwide Support

1149670_710483458977071_99782094_oLast month, Molokai filmmaker Matt Yamashita set a lofty goal: he wanted to raise $22,000 to fund the completion of a new documentary he calls “the most exciting project I’ve worked on.” The film, called “Return to Halawa,” is about Halawa Valley and the life of Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, one of the last Hawaiians born, raised and still living in the east Molokai valley.

As of Sunday night, 150 backers from around the world had pledged $21,831 to the project on Kickstarter.com, a website that’s been coined the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Funding on Kickstarter is all or nothing — project creators set a goal amount and deadline, and if the goal isn’t reached, they don’t receive any of the money pledged by backers. The website claims 44 percent of thousands of projects have been successfully funded.

With the goal close in sight, Yamashita set a “stretch goal” of $32,000. An angel investor has even pledged the last $5,000 if the project can attain $27,000 by Sept. 24.

“I was thinking if we could raise a little money and raise a little support would be really cool,” said Yamashita. “The amount of response we’ve been getting from around the world is really inspiring and adds a new layer of meaning for the project.”

Support has come from friends and strangers alike, including actor Jason Scott Lee, who has repeatedly visited Solatorio on Molokai.

“Matt Yamashita and crew have created something very special with Pilipo ‘Pops’ Solatorio’s life story,” wrote Lee. “Taking us on a ride back in time on one of our most cherished islands, Molokai, we experience hardship, history, and aloha through the voice and eyes of Pops.”

Yamashita has already shot about 35 hours of footage and he’s expecting to shoot another 15 to 20 hours for an hour-long film that he hopes will be released next summer.

“The $20,000 is really a below minimum budget for what we would need to do this,” explained Yamashita. “$50,000, based on industry standards for 30 minute piece, is on the low side.”

He’s already put more than $20,000 of his own time and energy into the project since starting to film about a year and a half ago. On average, three to four hours of footage can be shot in one day with a two to three-person crew.

“After shooting, comes editing. Sitting down and logging and then editing 50-plus hours of footage into a final piece requires, literally, hundreds of hours. At the very least, another 30 full eight-hour days will be required to bring this documentary to completion,” wrote Yamashita on his company’s Facebook page, Quazifilms Hawaii.

Why is Yamashita so passionate about this project?

Born and raised on Molokai, Yamashita is the hanai son of Solatorio, and has spent years studying Hawaiian culture under his guidance. For Yamashita, this is a way to give back and do his part in perpetuating the stories of Halawa.

“For 10 years, I knew I had to tell this story,” said Yamashita. “Like any good story, it’s telling itself. At this point, it’s going to tell me where the story will end. Pops [Solatorio] is always talking about showing kupuna respect and knowing they’re with you … feels like they’re guiding it.”

While the film’s narrative focuses on Solatorio’s life and music, it also tells the story of passing on traditions. It also features Solatorio’s son Greg, who is planning to move back home to Molokai, and hanai son Jason Poole of New York. Poole is a classically-trained musician who visited Molokai, met Solatorio, has become fluent in Hawaiian, and now shares Hawaiian music to New York youth.

“For Pilipo, the Hawaiian traditions, stories, and places of Halawa Valley are ‘sacred, not secret,’” states Yamashita’s Kickstarter page. “His life purpose has been to teach others and to foster understanding and connection with all who visit his home.”

Since 2001, Yamashita has been sharing such messages of cultural perpetuation and aloha aina. His recent films include “Sustainable Living on the Island of Molokai,” “Molokai Mom on a Mission — Standing Up to GMO,” and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources-commissioned TV special “Rain Follows the Forest.” He also helped produce and direct a documentary on Mac Poepoe for Oiwi TV, which will be nationally broadcast on PBS.

Yamashita normally makes his films available free of charge on YouTube, but he said there is potential for “Return to Halawa” to go beyond his usual distribution. DVD copies will be made available, and any extra funding will be used to run the documentary in film festivals.

If you would like to support the project on Kickstarter.com, you can do so before Tuesday, Sept. 24 by visiting the website and searching “Return to Halawa.”

“It’s really about the amount of people that show their support, not the size of donations,” said Yamashita. “I’m surprised, excited and humbled… it’s a testament that Pilipo has touched so many lives.”



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