Q&A With Keo Woolford, Director and Writer of “The Haumana”
By Dino Ray-Ramos, Friday, March 21, 2014
Keo Woolford was proud to present the San Francisco premiere of “The Haumana” at CAAMFest 2014. As a hula dancer himself, Woolford was just as proud to write and direct a film that represents not only Hawaii, but the often misrepresented culture of hula. The word “haumana” means student in Hawaiian. We had a chance to ask Woolford, a multidisciplinary artist who also acts on “Hawaii Five-0,” about his movie and the world of hula.
Where did the idea for ”The Haumana” come from?
The film is loosely based on my one man show “I Land” that opened off-Broadway and toured around the country, including runs at East-West Players and in Manila and is about how I found my identity through traditional hula. I have lived and traveled around the world and it was amazing to me how little people knew about hula—that men even danced hula and the Hawaiian culture in general. I am a very proud hula dancer (my kumu is Robert Cazimero since 1999). I felt a calling to utilize the skills that I was trained as an actor and from being on set and on stage, to bring some awareness about the culture I feel so blessed to be a part of. Our culture and hula is so misrepresented and misunderstood in the global mass media. It has become a passion of mine to get our stories up on the big screen from our perspective.
Did you want to cast actors and teach them how to hula or did you want to cast hula dancers and teach them how to act?
I was open to getting the cast whichever way I could! I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to do either of those crafts well. Each of them are very challenging in their own way. I was trained by masters in both acting and hula so my standards were high! Initially, I put out an open call for male hula dancers who could play high school (students) and we had a great turn out. But because acting is my background as well, it was really important that the dancers could affectively portray the characters and the subtle essences of each character through their acting. As it turns out, I casted a combination of hula dancers who were first time actors, and aspiring actors who are first time hula dancers. And I couldn’t have been happier with my choices. I think they all did such an amazing and worked their butts off. I’m so proud of all of them and blessed that they wanted to be a part of this.
What are some of the misconceptions of hula? And how does “The Haumana” help further the relevance of hula in mainstream culture?
I think the biggest misconceptions of hula are that it’s coconut bras, grass skirts, and flappy hands and that many people mistake Tahitian and fire knife dancing for hula. I also think people have no idea how much hard work, dedication, discipline, respect, sacrifice, learning, studying and practice goes into being a hula dancer. I am hoping “The Haumana” gives a small glimpse into the world of a hula dancer in modern times. Again, I am a proud hula dancer and it is my hope that this film could somehow shed some light on this often marginalized and trivialized sacred, historic, tradition.
If you could play any of the characters in your film, who would you be and why?
I originally wrote the lead character, Jonny Kealoha, for myself. This is based on my one-man show and it was a natural extension of what I wanted to do with my acting; to play a lead role in a feature film that portrays a brown person as the hero and protagonist and whose journey deals with his own demons and where he finally breaking through them. However, there was way too much on my plate as we got closer to production and it was more important for me to oversee the entire project than a single character. I was blessed to have found the amazing Tui Asau to play Jonny. And now I can’t see anyone else, including myself, in that role. But now that I have my first feature under my belt, I’m going to write something else for myself to play.
What was your first hula performance like?
My first hula performance was while I was in high school. I remember our group had a performance at an outdoor pavilion. I think we actually had to miss football practice because this was part of a credit for class. We were wearing white pants, white shirts and sashes. We all had to make purple bougainvillea lei. I don’t remember exactly what dance we did, but I just remember being so focused on doing everything right. When I heard the pa’i of the ipu and the chanting of my teacher at the time, I was transported into a state of reverence and connection that was pretty much indescribable. I was hooked.
Are there any other hula movies that people should know about?
A friend of mine, Lisette Flanary, who was very helpful with feedback on “The Haumana”, directed a couple of documentaries on hula. One I co-produced called “Nā Kamalei: Men of Hula.” And the other is called “American Aloha.” I think they are well done and very insightful and entertaining.
What are some of the projects you’re working on right now?
I’m currently directing a pilot project about an Asian American family called “Lee’s of Los Angeles” with a fantastic cast, and then a play in Hawai’i called “Legend of Ko’olau” at the Hawai’i theatre in may. I’m also attached as an actor to a new feature film thriller called “Kuleana” by director Brian Kohne. They’ve also kept my character Detective Sergeant Chang alive after four episodes on “Hawaii Five-0,” so that could also be something to look forward to as well. Finally, I’m in development for my next feature film writing/directing project, also based in Hawai’i.
Featured Film: “Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast”
By Jackson Scarlett, Friday, March 21, 2014
Photo Caption: Movie still from the Taiwanese comedy, “Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast.” Photo courtesy of Ocean Deep Films.
Wan, daughter of the legendary chef Master Fly Spirit, has run into some bad luck: Her boyfriend has disappeared, her modeling career just isn’t taking off and now a pair of grub-loving debt collectors are after her for a huge amount she can’t pay. What’s a girl to do but run back home to Mama? As it turns out, her plucky, showtune-loving stepmother, Puffy, is in the same boat and has beaten a path back to a small shop in a country market. On cue, an opportunity (and heartthrob Yan Yo) appears for Wan to make the cash she needs, and then some—if only she could find Master Fly Spirits’ secret recipes.
“Tropical Fish” director Yu-Hsun Chen returns after 16 years with this colorful pop comedy celebrating badoh, the Taiwanese outdoor banquet tradition. Blending multiple genres with plates full of gourmet grub and a hefty helping of food-fanatic classics like Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” and Stephen Chow’s “The God of Cookery,” “Zone Pro Site” stretches like a street noodle, but always remains satisfyingly toothsome.
Originally posted at CAAMFest.