Exclusive: ‘Kapaemahu’ Filmmakers Debut LGBTQ Romantic Adventure ‘Aikāne’
The team behind the acclaimed animated short Kapaemahu is debuting a new film inspired by Hawaiian culture, titled Aikāne — an ancient term for intimate same-sex friends that has taken on new relevance with the worldwide resurgence of anti-LGBTQ hostility. The film will premiere at the Animayo and Seattle International Film Festivals in May, followed by a series of screenings during Pride Month in June.
Aikāne tells the story of an island warrior who falls into a strange underwater world after being wounded in battle. When the octopus who rescues him shapeshifts into a handsome young man, sparks fly and an epic adventure begins. Love, trust and courage are the glue that bind the unlikely couple together in their fierce battle against foreign invaders.
Advocacy for LGBTQ rights was a key motivation for co-directors Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, a married couple whose film careers began with a documentary about the uproar that their own marriage announcement caused in Wilson’s rural hometown. “At a time like this, when kids are being told that they can’t even say the word ‘gay’ in school, we think that telling a queer love story with a happy ending is a beautiful and necessary form of resistance,” said Wilson.
Hamer added, “I wish I could have seen a film like Aikāne when I was young. It would have meant so much to me. Now I want to be sure that a kid in Florida or Texas has that chance, and that they’ll watch it with their parents.”
For producer Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a mahu (transgender) Native Hawaiian culture bearer who has been collaborating with Hamer and Wilson for a decade, there was also a personal aspect. “As a Kanaka, a native person in an island occupied by a foreign power and ideas, I want our young people of all genders and sexualities to understand that being their authentic selves, and loving who they love, is a reason to rejoice not to fear.”
The team’s previous animation Kapaemahu (which you can watch at kapaemahufilm.com) won five Oscar-qualifying awards and was shortlisted at the 93rd Academy Awards, and was expanded into a children’s book, public broadcast documentary, immersive museum exhibition and permanent exhibition of the painted film characters at the Hawaii Convention Center. That work inspired a movement to restore knowledge and understanding of mahu as a term of cultural respect, including a change to the signage at a monument originally intended to honor them in Waikiki beach.
Hoping to build a similar movement behind Aikāne, the team invited Emmy-winning actor and trailblazing LGBTQ advocate Judith Light to come on as executive producer. “I am honored to be a part of this transcendent film that brings an inspirational message that love is love is love when it is so profoundly needed,” said Light, who was one of the first celebrities to advocate for the queer community and those with HIV/AIDS, and played pivotal roles in The Ryan White Story, Transparent, and other projects bringing LGBTQ visibility to the fore. “It is a tale of the spirit, transformational and mystical in nature that resonates with love, courage, compassion and community.”
The visual world of Aikāne contrasts the stark landscapes and dizzying cliffs of the land above the surface, the site of conflict, with the rich colors and soothing motion of the sea below, where the heroes fall in love. Academy Award-nominated animator, designer and co-director Daniel Sousa brings the characters to life with a smooth, flowing style, portraying their emotions through subtle gestures and closeups. Dan Golden provided the music and sound design for the non-dialog film, incorporating underwater sounds captured by Hamer and Wilson in their free-diving expeditions. Sousa and Golden were also artistic collaborators on Kapaemahu.
Aikāne was produced by Hamer and Wilson’s Qwaves in association with Kanaka Pakipika, the production company the couple formed for their trans-Pacific collaborations with Wong-Kalu.
Upcoming screenings include Animayo (May 3-6), Seattle International Film Festival (May 11-21), with more in June, July, and August to be announced soon.