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FROM THE STAFF OF SF SHORTS

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Child of the Land
SF SHORTS STAFF . JANUARY 2020
In Hawaiian, Kamaʻāina means “Child of the Land” and refers to any resident born on the islands – regardless of their racial background. Kimi Howl Lee’s film, of the same title, follows the story of a queer sixteen-year-old girl, Mahina, as she navigates life on the streets in Oahu, until she eventually finds refuge at the Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae –– Hawaii’s largest organized homeless encampment.

Kimi Lee is a graduate of Stanford University's Film and Media Studies program, which has a long history of film screenings with the SF Shorts Film Festival. Stanford is among the premiere programs for documentary filmmaking, and its skills are leveraged in this short film that finely balances fact within fiction. Kimi spent almost two years of frequent research trips, countless interviews, community outreach, and location scouts.

Kimi found her sixteen-year-old lead, Malia Kamalani, at a local Starbucks. Malia described herself as the “hidden homeless,” so it wasn’t difficult for her to access the character, which became a union of re-enacted elements and fragments of numerous researched experiences.

The film grants viewers a privileged glimpse into a largely neglected corner of the island – Wai’anae – the predominantly native, low-income neighborhood known as the “west side” – a section of Oahu you don’t see displayed in travel magazines. According to federal statistics, Hawaii has the highest homeless rate per capita in the nation. Many native people have turned to one another for support, and have built beautiful makeshift communities. Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae is one example. The overwhelmingly Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community has created a safe, stable, thriving encampment. 260 displaced families live beneath a grove of kiawe trees, near the Wai‘anae Boat Harbor with no electricity or running water.

The de-facto governess of the encampment is Twinkle Borge, who also performs as herself in the film. As a self-identifying queer woman, Aunty Twinkle strives to provide a safe-haven for LGBTQIA identifying youth. Twinkle has single-handedly raised dozens of minors, including many LGBTQIA teens who have turned to her for shelter. The cast was comprised of primarily houseless, first-time actors. Malia never resided in the Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae which lended to the film’s authenticity because she didn’t already have a maternal relationship with Twinkle.

UPDATE
In response to local complaints and state announcements of plans to clear the encampment, Twinkie Borge requested a private meeting with Governor David Ige. After speaking for 2 hours, during which Borge conveyed that Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae was not like other homeless encampments, Governor Ige announced that there would be no sweep and the government would work with Borge and the leaders of The Village to find another solution. Both the governor and Mayor of Honolulu Kirk Caldwell are supportive of the plan for Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae to move and transition to a permanent agri-village. The leadership of Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae decided to move to a private plot of agricultural land and set up a new kauhale (homestead) village featuring permanent tiny homes, running water, electricity, farming, and communal kitchens and bathrooms.

After 2 years of fundraising, Pu'uhonua o Wai'anae was able to purchase a 20-acre plot of land in February 2020 and has started construction of the communal facilities. The residents call themselves 'houseless' rather than 'homeless', since they feel that they have found a home in the community of Pu'uhonua o Wai’anae. Fundraising for construction is ongoing at :
https://www.alohaliveshere.org

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