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Alika Maikau learns by video call from Array and Google that he is the recipient of a feature film grant.

Alika Maikau’s expertise behind the lens continues to propel into the spotlight. Technology giant Google and independent film distribution company Array just forked over $500,000 to a graduate of the Academy of Creative Media (ACM), University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus to create a feature film. Maikau, who is kanaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiian), is the first filmmaker to receive Array/Google’s Feature Film Grant, an inaugural award to support rising filmmakers from historically excluded backgrounds.

According to Array, executives were instantly connected to Maikau’s award-winning short film, Molokaʻi Bound, about a man named Kainoa who spent several years in prison. The film focuses on the character wanting to reestablish a relationship with his son and his Hawaiian heritage after his release.

five people at a film shoot
Alika Maikau, right, filming scene at ʻĀhuimanu Elementary for Molokaʻi Bound.

“My goal is simply to continue to share stories about the place that I grew up in, and the Hawaiian/Asian community I am a part of at large, in hopes of pushing back against the narratives that have been formed and retold/resold by outsiders for the better part of a century,” Maikau explained. “I have lived here my whole life in part because I am inspired every day by the people and this place. There’s a rich tapestry of complex stories just waiting to be told, and I feel grateful to be in a position to share the ones that are meaningful to me and hopefully others as well.”

In 2020, the Kāneʻohe native landed a spot on the first-ever Indigenous List. The coveted list is compiled by Hollywood film executives to recognize some of the best unproduced feature screenplays authored by Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaskan Native Film artists working in the U.S.

Mānoa sparks Indigenous inspiration

Maikau isn’t shy about paying homage to ACM where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2012. He prides himself on being an Indigenous filmmaker, a direction he was inspired by in school.

“My experience at ACM was a huge factor in shaping the way that I approach my work,” he said. “The Indigenous film classes I took from Merata Mita and Lisette Flanary were revelations, as prior to those classes and professors, I had no concept of Indigenous cinema. I’ll never forget when Lisette brought Taika Waititi to talk to our class in 2011 about Boy. I had never seen a film like that before, a story so specific to his experience in Aotearoa, yet so universal. I realized then that I wanted to do the same thing for Hawaiʻi”.

Flanary, an associate professor at the academy, is over the moon for her former haumāna (student) and hopes Maikau’s path can serve as a source of inspiration for ACM students.

“The Academy for Creative Media strives to empower students to tell their own, original and authentic stories, especially those of Hawaiʻi, Asia and the Pacific which are at the heart of ACM’s mission,” Flanary said. “Our students are encouraged to develop unique personal storytelling through the cinematic arts that highlight Indigenous scholarship and the value of local identity, community and diversity.”

Maikau will soon start casting for his upcoming feature. He’s also close to securing locations to shoot. His dream is to eventually release the film in a theater and a streaming platform. Until then, audiences can catch Maikau’s short on the Criterion Channel or in-flight entertainment on Hawaiian Airlines.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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