Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka’ehukai

"Heart of the Sea" examines the life of Rell Sunn, a pioneering competitive female surfer who also excelled in many capacities -- from spearfishing and community activism to battling the breast cancer that finally claimed her life in 1998, at age 47. Well-traveled on the fest circuit, docu should enjoy endless summer among select pubcasters.

“Heart of the Sea” examines the life of Rell Sunn, a pioneering competitive female surfer who also excelled in many capacities — from spearfishing and community activism to battling the breast cancer that finally claimed her life in 1998, at age 47. Subject’s charisma makes pic memorable, though in tallying her myriad accomplishments, it sometimes feels like a glorified “This Is Your Life” episode. Already well-traveled on the fest circuit (most recently aud award winner at San Francisco fest), hourlong docu should enjoy endless summer among select pubcasters.

Sunn (whose Hawaiian name translates as titular phrase) showed signs of being of one those rare, extraordinarily able beings from an early age — a quick study at anything she tried. Footage from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” shows her at ’70s peak surfing glory. She was also a consummate single mom, advocate for at-risk children, hula dancer, diver, radio DJ, local TV personality, native Hawaiian-culture preservationist, and all-around personification of “aloha spirit.” Her activities continued long after she got her first cancer diagnosis at age 32, then endured innumerable punishing treatments and relapses. Some excellent underwater photog (by Don King) tops competent tech package.

Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai

Production: A Women Make Movies presentation of a Swell Cinema production in association with ITVS, Pacific Islanders in Communications and KHET. Produced by Charlotte Lagarde. Executive producer, Janet Cole. Directed by Lisa Denker, Charlotte Lagarde.

Crew: Camera (color, 16mm/video), Denker; editor, Vivien Hillgrove; music, Miriam Cutler. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 27, 2003. Running time: 57 MIN.

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