HIFF40 Recap: Inspiring Students to "Talk Story" Through Films

The visual mediums of motion picture and animation betray an illusion of seamless, life-like fluidity presented through a director’s lens. Often overlooked is the functionality of the camera as a device capturing multiple frames per second, or the sheer number of drafts an animator puts into a single frame of a scene. Films and animation can be broken down into millions of still photos and drawings, spliced together to create the effect of motion. 
HIFF Festival Education and Programming Coordinator Jen May Pastores, who also doubles as a documentary and cultural photographer, has experience working with educational communities in their pursuit of artistic endeavors, specifically through her passion for photography.
Photography is sort of this universal language that can invite viewers into an intimate story that unfolds before them much like film-making,” Pastores said. “I think the moment when young people can begin to value stories, they’ll start to honor their own voice and empower others around them to do the same.”
In empowering the next generation of animators, photographers, and filmmakers, HIFF40 provided K-12 teachers exclusive access to select films and filmmaker Q&A sessions, while also creating platforms outside of school for K-12 and college students to share their creative content internationally.
Recognizing the online classroom as a student’s daily environment, especially in 2020 when remote learning was ubiquitous, HIFF pivoted to provide teachers with free and online Youth Education Screenings of HIFF films FIRST VOTE, LUNANA: A YAK IN THE CLASSROOM, and WATER LIKE FIRE. Using these films as educational resources allowed students exposure to creative stories of identity, education, and relationships. 
Furthering the classroom learning initiative, HIFF held The Guest Filmmaker Program which invited online classrooms to select and attend a Q&A session with the filmmaker of their choice. The talented lineup of directors included Yi Chen, Valerie Castillo Martinez, and Mitchel Viernes, whose respective films FIRST VOTE, DEATH OF NINTENDO, and WATER LIKE FIRE were all screened at this year’s festival. 

Venturing outside the classroom, HIFF held its annual Student Showcase program for K-12 students, and the DKII (Daniel K. Inouye Institute) Future Filmmakers Student Film Initiative for middle and high school students. At the university level, HIFF partnered with Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in a screening of their top student short films aka the ACM UHM Showcase
Inspired by the national sense of urgency behind this year’s presidential election, the DKII Student Film Initiative challenged students to create a short film answering the prompt, “My Letter to the American President: What Our Country Needs Right Now.” 
During the Zoom Awards Ceremony, DKII executive director Jennifer Sabas expressed her thoughts on this year’s top submissions. “Some were raw, most were hopeful but they were definitely real,” she said.
As middle school and high school category winners were announced, all participants expressed genuine happiness to just be a part of the contest. 1st place selectee Miley Cox of Waimea Canyon Middle School was both surprised and exuberant at the selection of her film, MY LETTER TO THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT.
“First of all it was kind of weird doing this because I didn’t expect to get anything out of it but the outcome was I was really proud of it and I didn’t expect it to look really good but it did,” Cox said. “I’m really proud of myself and I’m glad that I’m here.”
Finalists were also invited to a Q&A Zoom session with award-winning actress Phillipa Soo, best known for originating the role of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton in the Broadway musical HAMILTON. 

Phillipa Soo, was awesome in her time with us––down to earth and refreshingly honest in sharing with students how representation is important on and off screen,” Pastores said. 
While the DKII contest challenged students to use their creativity in response to our nation’s current dilemma, the Student Showcase allowed K-12 students the freedom to submit short films on any topic, anywhere from 1-20 minutes in length. 
“For the majority of the students who submitted a film to the Student Showcase it was their first film they’ve ever made,” Pastores said. “That can be a scary thing to put your work out there for literally the world to see. At HIFF, we want students to give filmmaking a try, so we keep the call open for any type of film to come our way.”
In a Zoom Q&A with Student Showcase finalists, Moanalua High School’s Daniel Van and DiAeris McRaven, who directed their own films and starred in each other’s, shared how they derived characterization from films they had in common. 
“Since we have a lot of the same taste in movies, what I told him to do was just channel his Matthew McConaughey in INTERSTELLAR but also in 2019 when AVENGERS ENDGAME came out too, I told him to watch a lot of scenes with Ironman when he was in space and that’s how we got most of our inspiration,” Van said when describing McRaven’s lead role in STARGAZER.
The UHM ACM partnership featured nine short films, five of which were animated. In a Zoom Q&A with HIFF Artistic Director Anderson Le, filmmaker and animator Sophia Whalen spoke about her inclusion of Hawaiian plants in her animation PUA WARRIORS

“Since we set it in Hawai’i, specifically Hawai’i island, all of the plants were actual things you could find on the island and the flowers themselves were also based on endangered flowers here,” Whalen said.
With an overload of inspirational content from students of all grade levels and backgrounds, HIFF wraps up a successful year in educational initiatives. Through showcasing student films, hopefully aspiring and curious youth may find their voices through the beauty of storytelling. 
“The youth are already telling stories daily through Instagram Reels, their YouTube channel, and Tik Toks,” Pastores said. “As they discover what’s important to them and craft those stories into a film, I hope they’ll begin to understand the power behind storytelling. Hawai’i is a “talk story” culture already. Let’s continue cultivating stories that inspire change.”

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