Recently, acts of violence against the Asian American community have been in the spotlight. This comes as we mark a year since the pandemic started and also a year since the former president called the virus the “Kung flu.” As the discussion around anti-Asian rhetoric continues, it seems like an appropriate time to explore what’s screening at the ninth-annual Seattle Asian American Film Festival.
The 10-day long festival is streaming more than 100 films from Asian American filmmakers through March 14. Folks can watch these movies by purchasing individual tickets or festival passes on their website.
We got the chance to ask Lisette Marie Flanary, the director of the documentary “Tokyo Hula” a few questions:
The following has been edited for length and clarity. For the full version head to our website.
“Tokyo Hula” is a part of a trilogy. How long has it been since you started working on the first film?
Oh, are you ready for this? I started the first film in 1998 and finished that one in 2003. “Tokyo Hula” was completed in 2019. So about 20 years.
How did you get into hula and what made you want to explore the topic through film?
I knew that I needed to find stories that I really felt passionate about. In the research and development phase of starting a production company, I decided to start picking up hula.
I was living in New York and found a very large Hawaiian community and really sort of fell back in love with it. It helped me feel very grounded and connected back to Hawaii. And from that, I was sort of interested in how communities who move away from Hawaii use hula as a way to connect back to home. That first project, “American Aloha” was the first feature doc that I did for POV [the PBS showcase of independent non-fiction films].
What do you hope viewers take away from “Tokyo Hula”?
I hope the film is a catalyst for dialogue — whether it's here in Hawaii or elsewhere — of where do we draw the line between appreciating culture and appropriating it?
I was talking to someone recently who saw the film, and they were like, oh, it made me think of yoga. And it made me think of all these other dances that have moved onto a global stage. We don’t usually think about where this art form actually comes from. Are we perpetuating it safely and truthfully to its origin?
Why is it important to empower those from marginalized and underrepresented communities to tell their stories?
Having diverse voices and representation brings a lot of understanding and respect. What's so amazing about film or documentary is that one film can be seen on public television by 3 or 4 million people.
Taking a film about hula and showing it in Europe, for instance — it’s enlightening to hear the responses from people who say, “I had no idea. This really changed the way that I think about Hawaii or it changed the way I think about the hula dance and now I understand that it really is an art form and cultural expression and there's this whole history to Hawaii that I had no clue about.”