Updated: December 4, 2023
Like many Hawaiian words and phrases, the kaona or duality in the title Kala, takes on a layered meaning. For a film about fishing, the obvious translation is unicorn fish or surgeon fish.
That’s where the story begins for this 20-minute locally made short film produced entirely with a cast and crew from Molokaʻi.
The opening scene zooms in on the main character Kawika sitting on the porch of his family home, and an image of his dying father resting within. The father reflects on memories of the happiness of his two young sons playing on the shore while he patches his throw net nearby.
His dying wish is for his now adult sons to take the newly completed net, and bring back kala. But mending the relationship between two estranged brothers is a task neither is anxious to take on.
Kawika’s years of addiction has put a strain on the family, and his efforts toward recovery are met with apprehension from his once close brother.
The film sifts up a deeper and active meaning of the word kala as forgiveness, to loosen or release.
Writer and co-director Matt Yamashita said the inspiration for the film comes through personal life experience as well as through his nonprofit volunteer work as a board member for the Molokaʻi Community Health Center and Molokaʻi Child Abuse Prevention Pathways.
Through his work Yamashita said he has become very aware of behavioral health and substance abuse issues within the small community. “So the story of Kala is an exploration of the impact of addiction within families and the pathway to healing through forgiveness and acknowledgment of our own mistakes,” he said.
As a fisherman who grew up throwing net on Molokaʻi, Yamashita said he also wanted to tell a story that celebrated this practice. “It is a style of fishing that requires you to spend countless hours quietly observing the ocean and learning it’s many moods. It is very meditative. Often it is done with a close friend or family member which helps reinforce relationship bonds and the sharing of knowledge,” said Yamashita in an email communication with Maui Now.
Yamashita spent many years working with Mikiala Pescaia and Josh Pastrana on various other film projects on Molokaʻi. “We have long talked about the need to produce a meaningful fictional scripted film that is 100% by a Molokaʻi cast and crew. Many of our filmmaker friends across the state have been pushing independent Hawaiʻi-made scripted filmmaking to new levels and we felt it was time to have a Molokaʻi story represented in an authentic and real way,” he said.
Yamashita has been making films since he was a junior at Molokaʻi High School nearly 30 years ago. “I wrote the first draft of the script for Kala over 10 years ago and was waiting for the right time to turn it into a film. A number of factors and inspirations aligned simultaneously early this year, so we went for it,” he said.
Within two months of deciding to move forward with filming Kala, a Molokaʻi cast and crew was assembled and the group raised enough funding to pay for production. Principle filming was completed in two days in June, while editing and composing the original soundtrack took another four months.
The film’s community world premiere was held on Molokaʻi in early October and its film festival world premiere took place at the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival on Oʻahu a week later. At the HIFF, Kala won honorable mention for best Made In Hawaiʻi short film.
The film is now scheduled to screen on Maui on Friday as part of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival’s visit to the Valley Isle. Kala is part of a presentation of Shorts taking place Oct. 27 starting at 6 p.m. in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater.
Tickets for HIFF 2023 Maui Showcase are free thanks to numerous sponsors but pre-registration is required. Registration is online only at MauiArts.org. The MACC will be collecting donations for the Maui Food Bank during the three-day event. HIFF patrons are asked to bring needed items for those impacted by the recent Maui wildfires. Donation bins will be located on site.