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The Culmination

Hype. I love that word. If there were a scoring system, I would probably be in the red zone of hype.

I’ve been looking forward to this past Sunday for a long time. The Descendants premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival with writer Kaui Hart Hemmings and director Alexander Payne right there with us. There was much ado about the screening; big Hollywood types on a massive international festival circuit to screen the film in our little city. “This is the fourth or fifth festival, but really it’s the first,” Payne said after receiving the Vision in Film award from Mayor Peter Carlisle. Yeah, George Clooney is in it. An afterthought, really. I was here to see Kaui, the girl who can take difficult and multifaceted situations and turn them into a two-day read. I was excited to see it play out on the big screen and more excited to hear her thoughts afterwards on how they brought her baby to life.

“I didn’t come in to this needing him to be so faithful to my book,” she said. “The book has already been written and I’m not so in love with my own work that I need it to be protected. And yet here is this incredibly faithful adaptation and I’m so proud and grateful and it’s the best film I’ve seen since Sideways.” She said it in such a casual manner, it was like we were her girlfriends cruising with her over martinis. That refreshingly candid way about her is what made so many of us become insta-fans, including producer Jim Burke who discovered the book and eventually got it in front of the Academy Award winning director standing next to her Sunday night. No secrets here, this was the moment I had been looking forward to since last year when I was stammering to even say hello to her on Kauai at the half-way party Payne threw for the crew. Just like most of us too scared to ask the questions we wanted to, she was also very nervous. “Beneath my calm and cool exterior, is a beating heart,” she said, “that’s full of gratitude and…I don’t want to say too much because my false eyelashes might fall off because I might cry.”

GOD, I love this woman.

The film was nothing short of brilliant. All it took was the opening scene to know Payne took Kaui’s story and this city very seriously. He nailed it. He told us afterwards that the film was his gift to Hawaii. If there was any doubt that he meant it, it vanished quickly as multiple cast and crew members in the audience, from crew members all the way up to pivotal speaking roles, stood up one by one in a theater freakishly filled with high-profile people and thanked him for the film.

There’s not too many words that can really describe what happened in that theater Sunday night, but I’m glad there were a few hundred people there to experience it. The gratitude, the pride, the unfaltering love for a city and a story written was shared by politicians, students, intellectuals and businessmen. It truly was the most remarkable moment of the festival and why I love HIFF so much. It’s over now but there are only a few months until the Spring Showcase. I’m seriously counting down the days.