Annual events offer unique experiences, share Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are unlike anywhere in the world. While our sun, sand and surf have made us a world-renowned dream destination, Hawaii is also a dynamic and vibrant place to live and visit. From relaxing on the world’s best beaches and dining at acclaimed restaurants to seeing movie stars at film festivals or top athletes at premier sporting events, where else would an isolated destination have access to so many world-class events and experiences?
As the fourth busiest international gateway into the U.S., the Hawaiian Islands welcomed a record 8.28 million visitors in 2014, who generated $14.7 billion in expenditures and $1.6 billion in state tax revenue.
To maintain this success, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), the state’s tourism agency, works with businesses, non-profit and community organizations to foster and cultivate programs and projects that provide residents and visitors with a variety of unique experiences and offerings that benefit our communities and grow our economy.
Hawaii has a colorful and distinct local culture that blends our Native Hawaiian and multi-ethnic heritage. We recognize a variety of special events from honoring King Kamehameha or perpetuating hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival, to celebrating Chinese New Year, the Filipino Fiesta or Japanese obon. Our collective and inclusive customs are great visitor experiences, which allow us to share and continue long-time traditions that enrich our communities.
This year, the HTA is supporting 181 Signature Events and Product Enrichment Programs statewide, which help to sustain Hawaii’s natural resources, and cultivate, preserve and promote old and new traditions that honor our cultural diversity and differentiate our destination.
The HTA’s Signature Events program promotes some of the state’s most highly anticipated events including the HTA’s Major Festivals like the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, Honolulu Festival, Koloa Plantation Days Festival, Maui Film Festival, Pan Pacific Festival and Kona Coffee Cultural Festival.
As part of this program, HTA is also the major sponsor of five Signature Native Hawaiian Festivals, including the Prince Kuhio Celebration, Merrie Monarch Festival, King Kamehameha Celebration, Prince Lot Hula Festival and Aloha Festivals.
The HTA also supports 15 select Signature Sporting Events like the Sony Open in Hawaii on Oahu, XTERRA World Championship on Maui, Ironman World Championship on Hawaii Island and the Kauai Marathon. Last year, these world-class events generated over $200 million in broadcast ad value, more than $100 million in direct visitor spending and charitable donations for the state. They also diversify our visitor and resident experiences, and enhance Hawaii’s presence as a premier sports destination.
Every year, HTA partners with our counties and the Hawaii Community Foundation to support our CPEP programs. The 91 HTA CPEP programs this year encompass arts, music, food and cultural festivals, and sports and wellness events throughout the state, like the upcoming Hawaii Island Puna Music Festival, Oahu’s We are Samoa Festival, Maui’s 23rd Celebration of the Arts and Kauai’s May Day by the Bay.
While tourism is the lead economic driver in Hawaii, the key to our success is our host culture and people. Programs that highlight our diverse history, culture and landscape attract visitors back to the Hawaiian Islands, stimulate our tourism economy, sustain jobs, and create volunteer and philanthropic opportunities.
We, the tourism industry and community, must continue to work together to foster these types of programs, which create new and authentic experiences, enhance our lifestyles, engage and connect our communities, sustain our resources and perpetuate and educate our youth and others about what makes Hawaii so special, so that we may strengthen our identity as a destination and a state.
Film Festival shoots for the stars
For 35 years the Hawaii International Film Festival has been one of the nation’s primary sources in discovering features, documentaries and shorts from Asia made by Asians, films about the Pacific made by Pacific Islanders, and films made by Hawaii filmmakers that present Hawaii in a culturally accurate way.
Each year in preparation for the event, HIFF programmers view some 1,300 films and choose an average of 150 features, documentaries and film shorts from more than 40 countries. Among them are world premieres, North American premieres, U.S. premieres, experimental films, animation and digital works representing social and ethnic issues, and first features by new directors. HIFF annually offers unique volunteer opportunities to over 400 volunteers state wide and employs 25-30 interns and seasonal staff.
Annually, HIFF hosts over 300 filmmakers from around the globe. During the festival, local and visiting filmmakers share their experiences with more than 10,000 students state-wide and over 55,000 festival attendees enjoy the unique diversity of film programming that strongly supports and celebrates Hawaii’s own proud cultural diversity.
HIFF is known internationally as the festival for filmmakers, where the aloha spirit and the intimate setting allows filmmakers to collaborate whilst being inspired around Hawaii’s highly creative environment.
For over three decades, HIFF has been a leading economic force for Hawaii’s creative industries. Creative Lab at HIFF programs such as the Writer’s Lab intensive for screenwriters recently celebrated a true script to screen success when one of the program’s first students premiered his first film, which he wrote and directed, at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival.
As we look forward, HIFF is focused on maintaining its world-renowned film programming whilst also expanding its support of local filmmakers, particular on the importance of being entrepreneurs, through such programs as the new Asia Pacific Entertainment Finance Forum, which will gather together leading film industry professionals from Asia, the Pacific, and Hollywood.
HIFF proudly continues a great legacy of support for our community, even though the cost of doing so rises each year. Since 2010, HIFF has experienced a 57 percent increase in theater rental costs and a 49 percent increase in film screening expenses. With rising costs in mind, HIFF, along with the new HIFF Foundation, passionately continue their dedication to bringing the best in art, culture, entertainment, and education to Hawaii.
The ability for HIFF, and many other local nonprofit organizations, to survive and thrive depends entirely upon the continued and vital support from our sponsors, our loyal film enthusiasts, and our advocates from around the world. All of whom we are indebted to and appreciate.
Keeping Koloa Plantation Days alive for all
On the last Saturday of July each year, a few hundred community members bring their horses, their classic cars and a variety of floats, trailers and walking units to Koloa School to march in a parade through old Koloa town to the Annie Knudsen Ballpark, commemorating Kauai’s plantation roots and celebrating its diverse cultures.
The parade and park celebration that follows is the founding event of the Koloa Plantation Days festival, started 30 years ago on Kauai with a gathering by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association and continued as an annual event with the support of then-Mayor Tony Kunimura and community members. Koloa was the site of the state’s first commercial sugar mill in 1835 and the festival started as a sesquicentennial celebration.
The parade and park celebration that follows is the founding event of the Koloa Plantation Days festival, started 30 years ago on Kauai with a gathering by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association and continued as an annual event with the support of then-Mayor Tony Kunimura and community members. Koloa was the site of the state’s first commercial sugar mill in1835 and the festival started as a sesquicentennial celebration.
With the participation of local businesses, organizations and the visitor industry, the festival has grown into 10 days with over 30 events and activities featuring all aspects of plantation life and the Koloa area, including live music, “talk stories” on local history and plantation life, a rodeo weekend, guided historic walks and hikes, film nights and an exhibit, local ethnic foods and crafts, and keiki activities and games most of which are inexpensive or free to attend. Tony’s wife, Phyllis Kunimura, today is still president of Koloa Plantation Days and its guiding force.
Today Koloa Plantation Days is recognized and supported as a major festival by the Hawaii Tourism Authority through the Signature Events Program which has brought technology, new audiences and resources to help support the festival’s mission to commemorate and celebrate local plantation history.
Volunteers come from area resorts, businesses, local nonprofits and the Koloa community to talk story, share memories, remember old friends and pass on cultural traditions and information on local area history information with visitors and residents alike. Many repeat visitors come each year to discover what’s new, bring their families, and soak in the atmosphere.
Phyllis Kunimura reminds us each year that what makes this event so special is that it is both a community festival and one that is treasured by our visitors. You’ll find grandparents sharing where and how they grew up alongside visitors eager to learn about the origin of local foods and music and hear stories of life in the plantation camps. On the 25th anniversary, Gov. George Ariyoshi, with his wife, was welcomed back to Koloa as that year’s parade grand marshal. He was blown away by the atmosphere and authenticity and told Phyllis, “you have to keep doing this.”
As a lifelong teacher and educator, Phyllis impresses upon us how important it is to get the younger generation involved and cultivate an interest in sharing local culture and history so that it can be passed on to future generations of residents and visitors. Since the last sugar plantation on Kauai closed in 2009, and as the generation who lived the sugar era gets older, this mission to share these experiences and perpetuate this tradition for future generations has become stronger.
Each year the committee meets to think up new ideas to keep the festival vibrant and relevant -inviting new participants and welcoming new events to deepen the connection between Koloa’s plantation roots and its diverse visitor offering and community today. Phyllis persuaded some former students from years ago who grew up with the festival to join the committee and the board. Last year, “Aunty” Stella Burgess, our parade coordinator, passed on, but not before she had trained and passed the torch to young Arryl Kaneshiro teaming with his retired Koloa schoolteacher, Cheryl Shintani. This year, the theme is fittingly, “The Legacy Lives On.”
Melissa McFerrin Warrack is the event committee chairwoman and coordinator of the Koloa Plantation Days festival, which takes place this year July 17-26.