Makana, a young Native Hawaiian man, struggles with his tenuous connection to his Hawaiian culture. When his girlfriend dies during childbirth, he is forced to complete a traditional indigenous birthing ritual with his girlfriend’s overbearing father. Together, they go on a journey that takes them down the long and winding roads of Hawaii island and up the tallest peaks of Mauna Kea in order to fulfill a promise and pave the path toward their uncertain future.
MEET THE FILM MAKER - BRYSON KAINOA CHUN
Bryson Chun is a Native Hawaiian filmmaker who has produced award-winning short and feature films in Hawai’i that have gone on to screen for PBS, The Smithsonian Institution, The Criterion Collection, and at festivals all over the world. He was a writing fellow for Sundance, imagineNATIVE, LA Skins, and ‘Ohina Labs where he developed his Greenlight award-winning short Other People under the mentorship of Thor Ragnarok writer Eric Pearson. His television pilot Poi Dogs was recently selected to be part of The Blacklist’s Inaugural Indigenous List. He was part of the 2021 CAPE New Writers Fellowship and is currently pursuing his MFA in Screenwriting from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
I was born and raised on the Windward side of O’ahu, first in Kailua town and then in Kahalu’u where I currently reside. I’m Native Hawaiian and Tahitian on my mother’s side and while I get some Asian ancestry from her, most of it comes from my dad who is Chinese, Japanese, and Okinawan. I am a filmmaker here in Hawai’i, mostly screenwriting, but I also produce a lot of documentary work as well.
Tell us about your short film "Ka Piko" and why you wanted to make it?
Ka Piko is a film that was born out of me trying to figure out what it meant to be a Native Hawaiian. We are not a monolith, but I still felt like maybe the stories I wanted to tell were on the fringes of the Hawaiian community.
Ka Piko tells the story of a young man named Makana who has to perform a traditional Hawaiian ritual for newborns with his girlfriend’s father, Bruce, but really it’s an exploration of Hawaiian identity. Makana, while Native in heritage, never learned to embrace his culture or traditions in the way that Bruce’s family did, so there’s an inherent tension between the two as a result.
Ultimately this was my way of trying to understand Hawaiian identity for myself and I didn’t know whether or not it would resonate with anyone else. Another aspect I wanted to explore was Native men dealing with grief.
I think there’s a misconception that men in general have to be cold or tough, but in our communities that couldn’t be further from the truth. We wear our heart’s on our sleeves and I think showing that side of what it means to be a man from a Native perspective is also ingrained in the film.
Thankfully, this script was selected to be workshopped as part of that year’s Sundance Indigenous Lab, which is kind of like adding rocket fuel to a fire. It was incredibly validating for me that an institution as revered and storied as Sundance saw the value in telling this small story from a Native Hawaiian who was still trying to figure a lot of stuff out.
It was still a difficult process to make like all films are, but I’m proud to say that to this day, even five years on, it is still finding new audiences and I’m still being asked to talk about it. It’s a huge honor that I don’t take lightly.
Why is it important for Pasifika and Asian people to write and tell their own stories?
It’s no secret that for such a long time stories about Pacific Islanders and Asians were told by people outside of those communities. To some degree I understand the reasoning behind this in certain instances, but ultimately it’s a practice that has done more harm than good. When our stories or places are being presented from an outside perspective, we have to question the intention behind it. What is the agenda? In Hawai’i, so much of the early film work served the express purpose of drawing in tourism. Those films catered to outsiders and told them that they could be like Elvis and live like kings while the exotic locals served them. By telling our own stories we can set the record straight.
We can bring the authenticity of place and culture into our creative work and show people perspectives they’ve never seen before. It helps engender a sense of empathy when we can truly see and understand others and film is one of the best ways to do this. There’s no agenda to the work other than uplifting our voices and giving them a space in the media landscape.
As a father of two young children I recognize how important it is for them to see themselves represented well on screen. It shows that your stories have value and that you matter. I didn’t grow up with a lot of amazing Pasifika or Asian characters on screen to look up to, but I hope to be part of the solution so that my kids will have no shortage of them.
In celebration of AAPI month can you tell us how your Pacific and Asian heritage has guided you through life and what you love about being an Asian/Pacific person today?
One of the best parts of being both Asian and a Pacific Islander is the sense of community we continue to foster. Now that I’m a father I’m far more cognizant of how disparate cultures view and treat their families. There’s sort of a Western ideal of dealing with your children until their 18 and then getting them out of the house as fast as possible. In our Hawai’i cultures, it’s not often economically viable to do that, but beyond that we strive to be enduring parts of our families and communities for as long as possible.
That support system has helped me to take risks that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise and it inspires me to tell my children that they can be or try anything and that I’ll always be there to support them. This extends to our growing film community as well. It would be easy for all of us to fight for our limited resources and compete with one another, but there is a true sense of camaraderie between all of us. I think we recognize that it’s starting to be our time and we’re all riding this wave of success together. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
Similarly, having that community to represent puts the right amount of added pressure on each of us. The onus is on every single individual to do their part to advance the cause. It’s like we’re all paddling a canoe together. With all of us working hard and supporting each other there’s no telling how far we’ll be able to go.