Kuleana is the Hawaiian word for responsibility. It can also mean ownership, authority, concern, and property. In 1971, few understood the concept of kuleana, as the Hawaiian Renaissance, a reawakening of island culture, had yet to begin. The 1960s perpetuated a century-long departure from traditional ways; postcard-perfect sunsets, grass skirts, and mai tais comprised a happy, carefree facade. Lounge acts defined Hawaiian music, ancient customs and values teetered on the precipice of extinction and, incredibly, the U.S. Navy regularly bombed the island of Kaho’olawe for target practice. In Hawaiian culture, ‘aina, or land, is sacred, as revered as ‘ohana (family); the shelling of the uninhabited island was deeply hurtful and offensive. On the surface, it seemed nobody really cared… but, in fact, a new attitude was taking root.
On Maui, childhood friends Nohea and Kim discover the true meaning of kuleana in a deadly clash between traditional Hawaiian values and the American Dream. Nohea, a tough local boy, returns disabled from Vietnam, and struggles to reconcile his old-fashioned upbringing with the present day. Forced to face up to his responsibilities as the chosen protector of his Grandma’s property and his family name, Nohea is determined to leave behind the daily struggle of island life. Kim, long presumed dead after her tragic disappearance at age ten, mysteriously returns to her childhood home on a mission of her own. On decidedly different paths to salvation, the unlikely pair share a common nemesis:
Kim’s adoptive father, unscrupulous businessman Victor Coyle, a sociopath whose tools of trade include bribery and murder. Coyle blatantly exploits the land and the people he has managed to usurp and control, and hatches a scheme to control the island’s water supply. KULEANA is an intense and insightful story unafraid to ask tough questions such as “what is a Hawaiian?”. Ancestral spirits and modern day warriors also contribute to the fight as Nohea and Kim learn the most important lesson: kuleana is not a burden; it is a privilege.
(95 min, unrated)
Writer/director Brian Kohne (GET A JOB)
Producer Stefan Schaefer (ARRANGED).
Starring: Moronai Kanekoa, Sonya Balmores, Kristina Anapau, Stefan Schaefer, Augie T, Marlene Sai, Mel Cabang, Vene Chun, Kainoa Horcajo, Steven Dascoulias, and Branscombe Richmond. Music from: Joni Mitchell, Procol Harum, the Platters, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Sons of Hawaii, Sunday Manoa, Marlene Sai, Genoa Keawe, Amy Hanaiali’i and more.
Original score by: Willie K and Johnny Wilson.