Ask the Filmmaker

Hector in California asks: Do you envision this project as serving as a vehicle to bridge the gap between indigenous Hawaiians, and their preconceived notions of the halaus on the Mainland, and the Mainland Hawaiians?

Lisette Marie Flanary: I envision this project as a reflection of the pride felt by all Hawaiians, whether they live on the islands or the mainland. As communities away from the islands have continued to grow in strength and in number, I also believe that the "gap" has become less of a divide and more of a bridge that connects people through their heritage, not their location. This documentary will hopefully create more of a dialogue between communities and offer a better understanding of the mainland Hawaiian community through telling their unique stories. It is my hope that this film will open doors to new and different points of view that will help dispel preconceived notions as well as shatter stereotypes to inspire mutual respect in all of us.

Talia in South Carolina asks: Since hula is a dance that is so deeply entrenched in Hawaiian history and the identity of Hawaiian people, how are outsiders (those not of Hawaiian roots) received when they attempt to learn hula? Culturally, is hula something Hawaiians share with others simply through performance, or is there a sense of eagerness to teach the dance, the language to those of other native roots?

Flanary: People from all different cultural backgrounds come to learn the hula, and while the dance is deeply connected to all aspects of Hawaiian culture, they are not considered "outsiders" because they are not of Hawaiian ancestry. Many of them are Hawaiian-at-heart and anyone who comes to hula with an open mind and an open heart is welcomed as a part of the 'ohana or family. Through the hula dance, Hawaii is kept alive and stories are shared by all: men and women, young children and kupuna (elders), of different races, religions, and nationalities. I don't think there is a sense of eagerness to teach the dance to those of other native roots as much as there is an openness to it. One of the great hula masters, Aunti Maiki Aiu Lake, said, "I believe there is something of beauty in every human being. I feel that if one is interested in hula, and works hard at hula, hula will help to bring out that individual's inner beauty..." I know that when I am dancing next to one of my hula sisters or hula brothers, I am feeling the energy of a human being next to me and we are moving in unison together, as a group, as we dance. It's the expression of your inner self, the giving of your heart, mind, and soul that's important. The passion and dedication of both kumu hula (master teachers) and haumana (students) allow for people of other native roots to share in the beauty of the Hawaiian culture through the hula.

Many Viewers ask: Where can I learn how to do the hula? How can I find more information about hula events in my city?

Flanary: I have received tons of calls and emails from people all over the country trying to find out where they can take hula in their area. For starters, there is a great resource on the web that has a listing of hula schools and classes by state at I would also suggest that anyone who is thinking of learning the hula should read Dr. Amy Ku'uleialoha Stillman's "So You Want To Study Hula?" which is also posted at mele's website. It's a short essay that highlights some very important issues for those who are looking for guidance in finding a teacher and environment that suits them individually. Choosing a hula instructor and school that is right for you involves careful consideration and I would urge anyone thinking of going for the first time to figure out what kind of commitment they are willing and capable of making before signing up for any classes. It's also not a bad idea to go and see performances of the various groups in your area. Remember, each teacher, each school is different. There are different styles and lineages, different areas of focus that may or may not be right for you. Everything from community center classes that offer recreational or relaxed experiences to very serious halau training that are geared more towards performance or even competition are offered. And last but not least, the hula is one of the most amazing art forms in the world so I wish everyone a lot of luck and fun on their journey. I know my experience as a student of the hula has been one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of my life... and the journey continues.

Woodrow in California asks: How did you find these three schools of Hawaiian dance? Considering the number of bad ones out there, you did just great...

Flanary: Initially, the film was going to focus only on kumu hula Sissy Kaio and her halau as they prepared to compete for the Merrie Monarch hula competition. Evann was first introduced to Sissy while she was on a NIPAD dance fellowship at UCLA in 1998. Though we had begun shooting the documentary, our plans for the film changed when Sissy decided not to go to the Merrie Monarch the following year. Suddenly, we no longer had an ending to our story but instead of being an obstacle, it was really a window of opportunity. One thing we definitely learned about making documentaries is that you have to be open to change, to going with the flow. At that point, we decided to broaden our focus by following different teachers and schools in California and I began research by reading articles on the internet and just picking up the phone and calling different kumu in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. From these cold call interviews, I became really interested in the work of Mark Ho'omalu and Patrick Makuakane and I asked if they would be open to meeting and allowing us to shoot. I can vividly recall my first meetings with them and this feeling I had in my gut that something really exciting was just around the corner. Listening to Mark's chanting for the first time and seeing Patrick's "The Natives are Restless" gave me chicken skin! And just to bring things full circle, when Sissy's halau returned to Merrie Monarch in 2002 (long after we had finished shooting for the documentary...), I went to the competition for the first time and nearly lost my voice cheering for them in the stands. It was a really special experience even though I was wishing that we could have shot it!

Kerri from Michigan asks: Aloha, is there a soundtrack available or a list of the music used in your film? I lived on the big island in the late '80s and I was moved to tears to see this wonderful film tonight and to hear this beautiful music again. I have one cassette of Gabby Pahinui that is getting old and need music to help me through these long horrible winters. Ha-ha! Your film was a treat. Mahalo.

Flanary: Living in New York City, I can definitely relate to needing Hawaiian music to get me through the bitter cold winter months! I'll take my headset with me for a walk with the dog in the snow covered streets and let the music transport me to warmer places in my mind. And it's also great when riding on the subway to block out all the noise pollution. For that matter, Hawaiian music is great year-round, wherever you live. There isn't a soundtrack for the film, but we will post our music list to help those of you start or add to your Hawaiian music collections. Here are a few suggestions of musical artists featured in the film, and again, you can visit and buy these great CDs online if you don't have a Hawaiian music section in your local music stores:

  • Mark Ho'omalu: Featured in the film, Mark has two great CDs out called "Po'okela Chants" and his latest, "Call It What You Like" (listen to selections in our update). And don't forget to check out the Disney soundtrack of "Lilo and Stitch" for Mark's "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" and "He Mele No Lilo."
  • Keali'i Reichel: Many people have asked me about the love song that the women cutting the sausage are singing and dancing to in the film and it is called "E Ho'i I Ka Pili." Keali'i also sings the beautiful song "Lei Hali'a" used at the end of the film. If you want to find out more about the artist and his music, visit I have all of his CDs and if you want to see something cool, pop the enhanced CDs into your computer and enjoy!
  • Manu Boyd: His song "Ala Pikake" is used in the scene where Sissy is teaching the Gracious Ladies of Hula Halau 'O Lilinoe. You can find it on the CD "Na Kumu Hula: Songs from the Source Volume I." Manu also sings with a great band called Ho'okena and all of their CDs are great.
  • Peter Ahia: Mark teaches 'Kuilima Hula' from Peter Ahia's album, "Peter Sings."
  • Ale'a: These talented guys have two great albums out, "Kinohi (Origins)" and "Take Me Home" and you can see Patrick's men dancing to "Kananaka" in the film.
  • Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: No Hawaiian music collection is complete without the music of IZ. His moving song "Hawai'i '78" was featured in Patrick Makuakane's show "The Natives Are Restless." Find out more about Iz's music at

Scott in Oklahoma asks: Thank you for such an outstanding story. Toward the end of your program you listed a quote in the native Hawaiian language that I think read "Strive for the Highest." I was wondering if that was correct and where it originated. I would love for my children to learn this phrase in the Hawaiian language. Once again thank you.

Flanary: There is an amazing book entitled "'Olelo No'eau" that is a collection of Hawaiian proverbs and poetical sayings collected and translated by the great Hawaiian historian and scholar, Mary Kawena Pukui. It is truly a treasure and the proverb that you mention was found in its pages. I had chosen a proverb to introduce each of the three kumu hula in the film and "Strive for the highest" was chosen for Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu. The Hawaiian translation is "Kulia i ka nu'u" and this was the motto of Queen Kapi'olani, the beloved wife of King David Kalakaua. In our special feature "Bashfullness Should Be Left at Home," you can also find a Hawaiian language resource that includes proverbs relating to the hula dance along with audio clips. And I am glad to hear that you and your family enjoyed the film.

Kokolia in New Mexico asks: Great film! When was the filming done in California?

Flanary: We began shooting in California in 1998. The majority of the filming was done in 1998 and 1999 in Southern California and the Bay Area. In August of 2000, we decided to return for a final production trip to both San Francisco and Los Angeles for the E Hula Mau competition in Long Beach, California on Labor Day weekend. The last two years have really been spent in the editing room! For five years, we have watched the three different halau grow and change, so it's been really remarkable. And I really have to thank all of them for their patience and unwavering belief that we would finally finish. Each time we came back to California, I couldn't believe how much all the children had grown too. It was really making me feel the pressure to hurry up and finish!

Candice in Hawai'i asked: Does Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakane have "The Natives are Restless" on video? Can it be rented or bought? Or can we visit San Francisco to view it? Mahalo from Honolulu.

Flanary: Unfortunately, "The Natives are Restless" show is not available on video for purchase or for viewing. Patrick did however take the show to the Hawai'i Theatre in Honolulu in 2000 and it's too bad you missed it! He does however present his shows every year in October and if you are thinking about planning a vacation to San Francisco this year, plan for October 4-5 or October 10-12 to catch the new one entitled "THE HULA SHOW." Check out his halau website at for more information on their upcoming schedule.