When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts released its most recent crop of 2021 nominees, Kapaemahu became the first Hawaiian film to be shortlisted in the animated shorts category. The film is co-directed and produced by a trio first-time Oscar nominees—Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson—whose work is already much-beloved by SDFF audiences. Like the trio’s last SDFF film, Leitis In Waiting (2018, 62 mins) and the earlier Lady Eva (2017), Kapaemahu focuses on indigenous third-gender identity. While the films have strong thematic resonances, Kapaemahudeparts from conventional documentary form, bringing a hidden history to life through Daniel Sousa’s striking animation and Wong-Kalu’s narration in Olelo Niihau, a pre-colonial Hawaiian language.

A descendent of Hawai’i’s original inhabitants who also identifies as mahu (third-gender), Wong-Kalu writes that the survival of indigenous peoples depends on self-representation, knowing and practicing cultural traditions, speaking in one’s own language, and forging practical links to history. Her own trajectory evinces this imperative as she moved from documentary subject, to producer and finally to co-director/co-writer.

Kapaemahu tells the story of the four mysterious stones that still stand on Waikiki beach, imbued with the healing energy of dual male and female spirits. In a director’s statement, Wong Kalue explains that telling the story is part of a project of reinvesting third-gender identities with respect and showing young people the joy and strength that can come from embracing male and female aspects of themselves. Telling that story in an authentic way meant not only speaking a pre-colonial tongue, but crafting the story in a situated way that diverges from eye-of-god-style documentary filmmaking. Hamer writes of the format, “Kapaemahu is a moolelo—a Hawaiian term that bridges the divide between myth and history, fact and fiction,” and notes that this hybrid format so important across the Pacific island cultures.

Kapaemahu has been lauded across the festival circuit, and won top honors at Animayo: The International Film Festival of Animation, Visual Effects and Video Games, and making the Oscars short list for best animated short, a first for all three co-directors. This is the second Oscar nomination for the short’s animation director, Daniel Sousa, who was up for his film Feral in 2012.

Watch Kapaemahu’s Trailer, visit the film’s website, or check it out on Facebook and Instagram @kapaemahu, or on Twitter @kumhinaLeitis In Waiting is available to stream/rent on VimeoAmazonYoutube and Google Play.

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