01 Oct Q&A WITH LISETTE KAUALENA FLANARY, DIRECTOR OF NA LAMALEI: THE MEN OF HULA
Mention hula, and most people think of beautiful, long-haired women in grass skirts and plumerias, swaying their hips to the beat of drums and ukuleles. While hula has evolved in to a form of entertainment, its roots are much more sacred. Masters of hula often treat it as a religion, a way of life. NA KAMALEI: THEMEN OF HULA unveils part of the rich history of legendary master hula teacher, Robert Cazimero,and Hawaii’s oldest all-male hula group as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest hula festival. Cazimero’s sincere passion andery personality push his team of “hula brothers” to the point of exhaustion, yet their loyalty to the Halau is unwavering. Candid interviews with several of the male dancers, some who have been with the group since it began in 1975, reveal the men faced deeply rooted cultural and gender stereotypes. Shame and questions of masculinity, however, are not allowed in the Halau Na Kamalei, whose powerful chants and rigorous performances are nothing but manly. Extensive footage of the Halau Na Kamalei’s journey to the Merrie Monarch Festival captures many touching moments of laughter, brotherhood, and Hawaiian pride. It also provides fascinating insight into the historical significance of one of Hawaii’s most
well-known, yet misunderstood traditions
LEE ANN KIM: A SIGNIFICANT PART OF THE FILM’S SUCCESS WAS THE ACCESS GIVEN TO YOU BY THE DANCERS AND THEIR HULA TEACHER, ROBERT CAZIMERO. HE IS ONE DEMANDING TEACHER! WHERE YOU TAKEN ABACK BY HIS STYLE?
LISETTE KAUALENA FLANARY: No, I wasn’t taken aback by Robert’s style. On the contrary, I liked that he was such a strong personality and also extremely honest and real. Hula can be demanding, and I think that really comes across in the film as we see the men prepare for the competition. I do think that there is a different style of teaching involved when it comes to teaching men, and really, it made me thankful that I am a girl! Kidding, but really, while Robert is a demanding teacher, the students know that he loves them and cares for them deeply and that he only wanted them to do better. All of them wanted very much to make him happy and proud. And they certainly did.
KIM: AS A FEMALE FILMMAKER, DID IT TAKE LONG FOR YOU TO GAIN THE TRUST OF THESE MEN? I’M SURE IT HELPED THAT YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL HULA DANCER, YOURSELF, NO?
FLANARY: Being a hula dancer myself definitely influences my work. At first, I wondered if it made a difference that I was a woman making a film about men who danced hula, but I cannot express enough how wonderful all of these guys in this school are. There is such a strong feeling of being ‘ohana, or family, that permeates so much of hula and the Hawaiian community in general so I felt very, very welcomed.
KIM: ANYTHING SURPRISING ABOUT THE AUDIENCE’S REACTION ABOUT NAKAMALEI: THE MEN OF HULA? DO MEN RESPOND DIFFERENTLY THAN WOMEN?
FLANARY: I that both men and women have both really responded to seeing men express their emotions so freely and openly. A lot of women have told me that they wished their partners danced hula because it might help them be more open with their feelings! I don’t think that men have responded differently than women to this lm, but I have had a lot of guys tell me that the hula was a lot tougher than they thought it was.
KIM: I WAS COMPLETELY ENGROSSED IN THE HALAU’S JOURNEY TO THE COMPETITION. I’M SUCH A SUCKER FOR MEN SHOWING THEIR EMOTIONS.WHAT WAS THE MOST EMOTIONAL PART FOR YOU?
FLANARY: There were many emotional moments for me in making this lm. Following the halau to the volcano when they made their offerings of their lei to the goddess Pele I think was the most exciting and emotional for me. Because it’s a sacred ritual, Robert had initially told me that he did not want me to lm that, and I understood why (as a huladancer) but was extremely disappointed (as a filmmaker). After having spent such a long time following the men leading up to competition, Robert really understood what I was trying to do with the lm and that my intentions were pono, or good. When he told me that he had decided to let me lm, I was super excited. And truly, it’s some of the most beautiful footage I’ve ever shot.