R.I.P. Art Gordon – By Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

Just twelve days before his 95th birthday, on August 10, 2022, Art Gordon passed away suddenly from cardiac arrest.

When I read this first line of his obituary a rush of sadness swept over me. This was followed by a long-lasting wave of gratitude that I had the privilege of knowing him well enough to call him a dear friend.

I consider Art Gordon to be the Father of the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival. Hereʻs why:  Art Gordon made resources available that dramatically changed the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival from being an idea into becoming a reality.

In 1981 there was only one movie theatre chain on Oahu  – the Consolidated theatres. Lucky for all of us,  Art Gordon was President of  the Consolidated Theatres with an office on Sand Island off Nimitz Highway.

I never met him, but I knew that I must. Several of us had a solid concept for starting an international film festival in Hawaiʻi. We even had several 35MM movies to show.  However, we had a serious problem: we had no movie theater where we could show the movies!  We had to have his help, or else!

After I introduced myself and told him about the idea a group of us had about starting an international film festival with the theme of “When Strangers Meet” – a festival  that would showcase films from Asia and the Pacific, he gave me his full attention instead of abruptly dismissing me as many others in Honolulu had.  Art became particularly interested when I said we wanted all the films to be shown for free with after-film discussions, and that we want to emphasize the filmmakers rather than the movie stars.

“How would you like to show the movies in the Varsity Theatre?” he asked. “Perfect!” I said. “It’s close to the University and the East West Center and central for Honolulu people. However, we don’t have any money to rent it. Do you think you can give the Varsity Theatre to us for free?”

Art started working in Los Angeles as an usher right our of high school. Later he married Loree, the girl at the box office selling the tickets, and devoted the rest of his long life to his love of movies and movie theatres – right up to the day he died. He particularly loved Japanese films, perhaps after scheduling movies from Japan’s Toho Studio at the old Toho Theatre at 1646 Kapiolani Blvd. Japanese movies were still playing there regularly when Art first arrived in Hawaii in 1972 to be the President of Consolidated Theatres. By the time I met them, Loree and Art loved and knew alot about Japanese movies. So the concept of a free film festival that emphasized movies from Asia and the Pacific was an idea that lit a spark and also appealed to Art’s innate value of giving back to his community.  Plus he was in the position to make the vision a reality.

“Yes,” he said, “I can give you the Varsity Theatre for free.”  His “yes”  was a game changer.  We had a place to show the movies and hold after film discussions!  Art Gordon continued to offer the Varsity Theatre for free every year for 15 years.

In addition, throughout his term as President of the HIFF Board, Art arranged at one time or another to give us the free use or nearly free use of  Consolidated theatres throughout the State including: Kuhio twin Theatres, Iolani twin Theatres, Waikiki 3 Theatre, Koko Marina twin Theatres, Kapiolani Theatres, as well as theatres on Maui and the Big Island.

For over 15 years Art was involved in HIFF in other major ways too. For example, he was the first President of the HIFF Advisory Board and later the official Board of Directors.  He was great at designing and implementing  organizational strategies and solidifying corporate support for the newly formed Hawaiʻi International Film Festival. It was key that Art Gordon was at the helm of the Board when the transition was made changing HIFF from a program at the East West Center to become an independent nonprofit organization as it is today.

Personally, I knew Art Gordon as a dear friend, an upbeat gentleman, a pragmatic visionary with a great sense of humor. He had a genuine love of the movies, the people who made them and the audiences who came to see them. There was a special place in his  heart for the people working inside the movie theatres, particularly the ushers.  Without doubt, Art Gordon was a supreme diplomat for the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival during its first 15 years of existence.

In my opinion there could be no better gift to remember Art’s devotion and generosity to HIFF than a donation in his name toward the building a movie theatre for HIFF to use freely throughout the year.  With this in mind, I made a donation to the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival in Art Gordonʻs name toward the purchasing or building of a movie theatre. I’d be thrilled if youʻd consider honoring Art Gordon in this same way.

Here is Art Gordon’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser obituary.

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko
Founding Director, Hawaiʻi International Film Festival (1981-1996)

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