The award winning film Hawaiian Soul, highlights George Jarrett Helm, Jr., the film’s protagonist, a Hawaiian leader, activist and artist whose passion and tenacity inspired efforts to protest the military bombing on the island of Kahoʻolawe. Leeward Community College and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumnus ʻĀina Paikai, who wrote, directed and produced the short, won two prestigious Hawaiʻi Film Festival awards for it in 2020.
“[Helm] used the power of music to motivate people and ultimately created a major shift, both in stopping the military target bombings taking place, but more importantly changing the hearts and minds of the people, empowering them to take a stand and defend the ʻāina ,” said Paikai. “He’s a fascinating subject and someone whose story should be told and remembered.”
Leeward CC’s ties to Hawaiian Soul run deep across the campus. John Signor, a Leeward CC music professor, crafted the film’s score. Television production alumni who participated in the project include Michael Tanji (director of photography), Bradley Crawford (editor and visual effects director) and Keoki Smith (gaffer).
Paikai’s wife, Annemarie, who is Leeward CC’s Hawaiian and Pacific Resources librarian, was inspired to share the film with the campus. She reached out to Leeward CC’s Innovation Center for Teaching and Learning Coordinator Erin Thompson, who immediately knew this would be a valuable experience for both employees and students. However, restrictions due to the pandemic delayed the event for months, until fall 2021.
“It was definitely worth the wait! This was the first in-person, socially-distanced professional development event we hosted in over 18 months. We invited our sister community colleges, resulting in over 200 attending online and 40 in person,” Thompson said.
Kumu Momi Kamahele, coordinator for Leeward CC’s Kīpuka, Native Hawaiian Center at Puʻuloa, and Hawaiian Studies professor, views Helm’s story as a model where passion and anger can work together in a positive direction.
“One’s political views may change over time but one’s sense of doing what is right, what is pono, never does. [Helm’s] passion driven by pono was to stop the killing of Earth-mother in all her varied forms like islands and continents and in this case, Kahoʻolawe,” Kamahele said. “[Helm] is not remembered for his music alone but what his music coupled with his political bravery did for a generation of Hawaiians, young and old. You can not talk about George Helm without talking about Kahoʻolawe.”
Paikai’s hope is that viewers come away with a curiosity to learn more about Helm’s message of aloha ʻāina.
He said, “This short film is really just an introduction, especially to our youth, on who this man was, the type of talent he had with his music and charisma, and his passion for Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture. He is someone to be cherished and I hope they go and do their homework and find out more about this wonderful man.”
Other projects from Paikai include Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki (2019), Mele Murals (2016), and serving as an OiwiTV documentarian aboard Hōkūleʻa’s worldwide voyage from 2014–17 where he sailed to Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa, Australia and Rapa Nui. He is currently collaborating with other Native Hawaiian filmmakers on a vignette-driven feature length film called Makawalu (2022).
To learn more about Hawaiian Soul and ʻĀina Paikai, go to www.hawaiiansoulmovie.com.
—by Erin Thompson, Leeward CC Innovation Center for Teaching and Learning coordinator