See Us at the Movies


By Kelly Moran

See Us at the Movies

Most people know that South Pacific and From Here to Eternity were filmed on Kauai and Oahu, respectively.  But while the Big Island isn’t widely famous as a backdrop for movies, quite a few have been shot – or have had scenes shot – here.

The first were silent pictures, like The Hidden Pearls (1918) and The White Flower (1923), with backdrops of Kilauea Volcano.   When talkies came in, Four Frightened People (1934) was shot in Hilo; Hawaiian Buckaroo (1938) on the Parker Ranch in Waimea; and Song of the Islands (1942) in Puna – though, sadly, its Kapoho and Kalapana locations have since been covered by lava.

Those films are obscure today, and hard to find, even on Turner Classic Movies.  Later films with Big Island scenes are better-known.  Kona Coast (1968) a melodrama starring Richard Boone, was shot almost entirely (you guessed it) in and around Kailua-Kona.  Black Widow (1985), a mystery-thriller, followed stars Debra Winger and Theresa Russell to Kona, to Volcano, and to the office blocks of downtown Hilo.

More often, though, the Big Island stands in for imaginary or faraway places.  Waterworld (1994), a science-fiction epic set in a future where the oceans had risen and swamped the continents, was shot looking seaward from the harbor at Kawaihae.  The longest car-chase in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), ostensibly taking place in South America, was actually filmed in Puna, along a private road near Kea’au.  And a gender-bent version of The Tempest (2010), starring Helen Mirren, used bleak West Hawaii lava fields and lush East Hawaii parks for the surreal landscapes of Shakespeare’s magical isle.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest
(In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Helen Mirren – as the sorceress Prospera – stands in a West Hawaii lava field. Those flames, however, are a digital artifact, added by computer in post-production.)

Only a small part of The Descendants (2011) was shot on the Big Island: a drive along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, and a visit to the Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea.  (The rest was filmed on Oahu and Kauai.)   But the movie is widely acknowledged, here in the Islands, to be the most realistic depiction of everyday life in Hawaii — at least, among prosperous kama’aina haoles — that Hollywood has ever produced.

Japanese tourism is big business here, so it should not be surprising that Japanese studios make movies here, too.  The historical drama Picture Bride (1993) was set in 1918, and filmed on the Hamakua Coast; and Honoka’a Boy (2008), filmed in and around (yes) Honoka’a, went on to win four Japanese cinema awards.

Some television programs have been made here too, including a segment of the 2001 season of The Amazing Race that brought globetrotting contestants to Kona, and a week’s worth of the game show Wheel of Fortune in 2008, taped at a South Kohala resort.  The only TV series ever entirely shot and set here on the Big Island was Roseanne’s Nuts (2011), a “reality” show about comedienne Roseanne Barr on her macadamia farm near Honoka’a.

Are you interested in making cinema or video here?  Contact John L. Mason, commissioner of the Big Island Film Office, headquartered in Kailua-Kona.  Besides keeping a list of locally-shot films, his office has a photo archive of prospective locations, maintains a database of local resources for equipment, crew and support services, and helps producers expedite the permit process.

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