Noho Hewa: Wrongful Occupation

A film for the Hawaiian people.

By Catherine Cluett

As Hawaii prepares to celebrate its 50th year of statehood, a film that portrays militarism, sovereignty, and the loss of native Hawaiian culture comes at a particularly poignant moment for Hawaiians. Winner of the Hawaii International Film Festival’s 2008 Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary, Keala Kelly’s film “Noho Hewa, The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaii,” has an important message.

“If you really love this place, you need to watch this film,” says Molokai resident Hanohano Naehu of the 73 minute film.

Kelly and her film came to Molokai several weeks ago on a tour throughout the state. Since its success at the Hawaii Film Festival in October, Kelly says she has received over 30 requests for screenings. “It took on a life of its own in the community,” she says. Kelly is also raising money for the completion of the film.

“Noho Hewa” takes a contemporary look at the cost of the U.S. takeover of Hawai'i in a raw portrayal of Hawaiian resistance to the departure from the ancestral, cultural and physical presence in their homeland.  It unpacks some of the colonial mechanisms of a complex and emotionally charged political landscape from militarism to poverty to sovereignty. As these issues unfold, the massive military buildup in the Pacific that has made Hawai'i home to the largest military command in the world is understood from the Hawaiian perspective.  

The film includes analysis from Hawaiian scholars and activists, and it reveals legal and political arguments for Hawaiian self-determination. The film links seemingly unrelated topics such as militarism, desecration, Hawaiian sovereignty, the environment, poverty, and homelessness into an emotionally charged picture of Hawaii today.

“The point of the film is to pull all these issues into one frame,” Kelly explains. “It’s an unusual film – it has multiple voices and no protagonists. I took a chance and make the issues the protagonists,” she adds.

Kelly becomes increasingly animated as she discusses the issues that the film addresses. There are still many important topics she wants to add to the film, she explains. Some of these include food and energy sovereignty and the complications of genetically modified organisms. But making the film has already been a long, five-year process. “At least 50,000 of my own prayers went into it,” she laughs.

“For Hawaiians, it’s spiritual first – it’s us defining our kuleana. We can’t negotiate it. That’s what I hope people will take away from this film.”


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