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Wailau Filming Canceled

This week, filmmakers planned to shoot a pilot episode for TNT called “Drop Zone” in Molokai’s remote north shore valley of Wailau. But those plans were nixed after a meeting with local residents last week, who expressed concerns about lack of protocol in holding a community discussion of the project, and “commercialization” of the valley many consider sacred.

“It was apparent people weren’t too excited to have us there, and out of respect for their wishes and for our best interest, we decided not to move forward,” said Maui –based filmmaker Mark Moquin on Friday.

“It’s a very special place; I don’t want [filming] to happen,” resident Palmer Naki, whose family takes care of the valley, told Moquin during the meeting last Wednesday. The meeting had been called at the last minute when concerned residents heard of the plans and raised red flags.

“Drop Zone,” a proposed reality TV series on TNT, would feature “Survivor”-like episodes in which experts are helicoptered into remote locations and forced to find their way out. In the case of the pilot in Wailau Valley, that would mean trekking through un-marked territory to find the ancient trail that acted as an access route over the mountain range to the south side of the island, according to Moquin.

“It’s non-existent now,” said Naki. “It’s an animal trail.”

A former resident of the valley who used to hike the trail regularly said he went recently with his son to try to find the path.

“It’s blocked by jungle,” he said. “It’s the oldest, most sacred path on this island… [over the years] it’s been desecrated.”

Moquin said filming would last one day (“or maybe a little longer”) with three teams of eight in the valley, including survival experts and safety crews.

Local residents involved in the project said an agreement has been signed ensuring that neither the location nor the name of Molokai would be disclosed in the show.

But for local activist Walter Ritte, that wasn’t enough.

“The question is, is this a proper use of the valley?” he asked. “It’s what you represent… It’s about commercialization of the valley…. A story about danger… is not a story we want for our island.”
Harry Donenfeld, Maui County film commissioner, said filmmakers had been talking to several local residents and thought that meant they had the community’s approval for the project.

“It’s not a crime or malicious intent, we’ve gotten here by accident, and I apologize,” said Donenfeld.

To put the filming in a positive light for local residents, Moquin offered that the footage could be donated to local schools so youth could see the valley which few – even Molokai residents – can access. He also suggested that his crew could help clear the trail while they are there.

“I’m happy to come and help clean up on my weekends,” he said.

East end resident Charlotte Seales said the most important thing for the film team was getting the blessing of the valley’s ohana.

“It’s up to the ohana – if they say no, then no can,” she said. “The aina is alive… you will protect those [involved] if you make it pono.”

In the end, within two days after hearing residents’ mana`o, Moquin said filming on Molokai was called off.

“We would have liked to be on Molokai because it’s so beautiful… but we have contingency plans,” he said Friday.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Donenfeld discussed what the film office could do to establish a protocol for the future.

“How do we address this so it never happens again?” he wondered. He said he could see if the film office could contact residents immediately if they are approached by filmmakers about a project on Molokai.

Donenfeld did not return calls to elaborate on those possible plans.

“It was great news [that the filming was canceled], and we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen now,” said Naki.