‘Molokai Bound’ Film’s Story ‘Close to Home’

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

An independent film currently in production has sparked attention on Molokai over its name. “Molokai Bound,” written, directed and produced in Hawaii, explores challenging topics of personal struggle and reconnection with family and Hawaiian heritage. 

A short film by the same name released in 2019 was well-received and became funded for a feature-length version.

Recent social media posts on Molokai expressed concerns over the film’s intentions and connection to the island. 

“With a name like that, everybody was like, ‘What’s this?!’ But I think it’s a great story and great people are involved,” affirmed Molokai’s Miki’ala Pescaia, who, among others in the community, has been working closely with the film’s director. 

“Molokai Bound” director, writer and producer Alika Maikau has family ties to Molokai, said Pescaia, and will film a short portion of the production on the island in early April. Molokai residents have guided and vetted the process, and two of the supporting actors are residents as well. 

Maikau’s first film, titled “Mauka to Makai,” also worked with Molokai residents and features Molokai’s Ehulani Kane. 

Though the name got residents’ attention, Pescaia said a majority of the film’s plot and production takes place on Oahu. 

The storyline, as described by Pescaia, is about a young man who makes decisions to try to help his ‘ohana but gets involved in illegal activities and goes to prison. When he’s released, he tries to make a better life for himself and reconnect with his son. But despite his best efforts, he ends up in the same social situations and his history catches up with him. Though he’s from Oahu, his mom is from Molokai, and she moves back to her homestead. He knows he’s headed to jail again but first “he makes his way back to Molokai and brings his son so he can have the relationship with his mom that he never got to have,” said Pescaia. 

“It’s very relatable,” she explains. “…Hopefully it’s going to bring good insight to the other perspectives in these difficult situations and spark conversation to make it easier for people to discuss their own situations using this fictional storyline.”

Maikau’s own mother was raised on Molokai, and has family still living here, Pescaia said. 

“He knows how powerful Molokai is for grounding Hawaiian families and he has friends around him that have had that experience of being able to come back and connect with their kupuna and ‘ohana and their ‘aina,” she said. “Part of it is reminding people who might be living that narrative to not forget your kulaiwi, your homeland, and that your kupuna and ‘ohana are always here for you.”

Maikau recalls hearing his mom talk about growing up in Ho’olehua. 

“My mother used to tell me stories of the time she lived with my great-great grandmother Sarah Kaluna Maikau at her hale in Ho’olehua, and how some nights her and my cousins would hear them her and my aunties speaking ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i to each other but stop as soon as my they walked in,” said Maikau. “Though that house burned down during a sugar cane fire in the 60s, the memories shared by my mother embedded themselves in my subconscious as I wrote this film, that finds the main character searching for reconnection and reconciliation with his mom, who he goes to see at the end of the film in Ho’olehua.”

Pescaia said Molokai residents usually have a say in films that involve Molokai. 

All legitimate, prospective films for Hawaii production must come through the Hawaii Film Office, a state division that coordinates film and photographic use of state-administered parks, beaches, highways and facilities and assists in the necessary film permits process. Whenever Molokai-related films come before the Film Office, they are usually routed to Molokai filmmaker Matt Yamashita and a small group of cultural practitioners on the island to help screen them and navigate through the community, according to Pescaia. 

We evaluate the impacts that their story or their presence could have on our community, special places, resources or reputation,” said Pescaia. “Sometimes we tell people, ‘No come.’ It’s better if [they] don’t come at all. Or we try to provide alternatives or help them mitigate and navigate — help you tell your story in a different way that doesn’t have adverse effects [for Molokai]… We try our best to educate and get people to respect and aloha Molokai.”

But she said their experience with “Molokai Bound” has been nothing but positive. Pescaia and Yamashita have been working with Maikau for a couple of years in preparation. 

“They are very thoughtful and they really distilled it down so their presence will be minimal,” said Pescaia. 

Filming on Molokai will take place for only a couple of days in early April, at three, privately owned locations on the island. She said some filming will also take place on a boat offshore. Two of the supporting actors with Molokai scenes are from Molokai. She said in asking them to be part of the film, Pescaia thought about those who would play characters much like themselves. 

Maikau said he hopes his film will “push back against the exoticized, fetishized image of Hawaii” that is often promoted in the movie industry and media and instead work to revise “the narrative told by people outside of Hawaii by telling them ourselves.”

For Pescaia, she said she’s been inspired by seeing cast members step into the roles of the film’s storyline and “be brave enough to participate and having a say in something you feel you often don’t have control over.”

“[I hope ‘Molokai Bound’] shines a light on these topics and gets the conversations going on these difficult topics. Who knows how much healing can happen, or inspire people to just hang in there one more day and get over the hump,” she said. “The story is really close to home.”


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