Spotlight: Hawaii Int’l Film Festival celebrates silver anni

HIFF aims to serve as a bridge between East and West

While most people descend on the Hawaiian islands for the water, surfing and sand, quite a few show up every year to spend time in the dark.

The Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in October, has lured nearly 1 million film fans and professionals during the last quarter-century. Most attendees are island residents, but at least 10% are visitors from the mainland, Asia and elsewhere around the globe.

The initial festival involved only seven films and took place entirely on Oahu. But this year’s incarnation, Oct. 20-30, will use more than a dozen screening sites spread across six islands, and will show 125 films for a projected audience of 65,000. HIFF is the only statewide film fest in the country. It’s also the only film fest in the world spread across an archipelago.

“We use the geography and culture of Hawaii to showcase new international cinema, particularly from Asia and the Pacific Rim,” says programmer Anderson Le, of the event’s unique appeal.

Le says the function of HIFF is to serve as a bridge between East and West, and to promote new talent, especially Asian, to the West. “We take pride in presenting U.S. and world premieres of little-known films,” he says, pointing to past titles, including “Charlotte Sometimes” and “Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl,” that have went on to earn international esteem.

Roger Ebert singled out the former, a feature by Asian-American director Eric Byler, at the festival for praise. Quentin Tarantino saw the latter at HIFF, and hired its director, Katsuhito Ishii, to do the animation sequences in “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

Elements of this year’s festival are still falling into place, but invitations have gone out to potential jurors including actresses Lucy Liu and Julie Delpy as well as producer Teddy Zee (“Hitch”).

The fest’s first lifetime achievement awards will be bestowed upon Zhang Yimou and actor Sonny Chiba (“Kill Bill”).

Confirmed screenings include “The Matador,” with Pierce Brosnan; “The Buried Forest, The Hidden Blade” and “Karaoke Terror” from Japan; “Shanghai Story” from China; and from South Korea, Cannes contender “A Bittersweet Life.”

Both a Spring Showcase and K-Fest, a minifestival of films from the new wave of Korean cinema, preceded this year’s HIFF as special events marking the festival’s 25th anniversary. Seminars and panels during the fest will revisit some of the major events of the past 2½ decades.

Patrons who tire of endless hours in dark theaters can look forward to a unique draw of the Hawaiian festival: movies shown on a giant screen on Waikiki Beach, which unspool surfside during opening and closing weekends.

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