Naz Kawakami (played by co-writer Naz Kawakami) and Sloane (Rina White) star in the local film “Every Day in Kaimukī.” (Photo courtesy of Alika Tengan)

By Shawna Takaki | Staff Writer

“Every Day in Kaimukī,” which was entered into the prestigious Sundance Film Festival “NEXT” category this year, is a movie directed by Kapiʻolani Community College alumnus Alika Tengan that is screening during the Spring Showcase of 2022 Hawai‘i International Film Festival (HIFF) Thursday at 7 p.m.

It was originally made its world premiere on Jan. 23 of this year at Sundance Film Festival, the first feature-length film directed by a Native Hawaiian which made it to Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles the coming of age of a man who grew up in Kaimukī facing the ordeal of moving somewhere else and leaving his hometown behind. The movie, written and directed by Tengan, is deeply entrenched in Kaimukī and the experience of growing up and eventually leaving the islands. The trailer can be found here.

“Growing up here, we’ve been asked a lot like how could anybody ever leave Hawaiʻi? Like you’re so lucky to live there,” Tengan said. “And while we are very lucky and fortunate, sometimes ambitions and curiosity and complacency all collide and I think it’s especially hard to leave a place you know is a special place.”

Alika Tengan, the director of “Every Day in Kaimukī,” attended KCC until 2012 and wrote for Kapiʻo News. (Photo courtesy of Alika Tengan)

Alika Tengan went to Windward Community College then attended KCC, where he was on the Kapiʻo News staff until 2012, which helped him to grow his skills in writing. He eventually attended the film program at UH Mānoa, where he was a KTUH radio host.

While at the University of Hawai‘i, acclaimed New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who went on to create “Jojo Rabbit” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” gave a talk. Its focus on the creator’s hometown and the stylish, charming feel of Waititi’s hometown in his film “Boy” was one of the inspirations for “Every Day in Kaimukī.”

Tengan started pursuing film seriously in 2016 after years of experience in photography and writing. He felt the medium was the best way to express his creativity.

“The beauty of film is that it’s this hodgepodge of writing and music and sound and color. Photography, performance … all those elements combined to make it such a powerful medium,” he said.

But the biggest inspiration for “Every Day in Kaimukī” was his friend, co-writer, and lead actor of the film Naz Kawakami, whose move to the mainland was what influenced the plot of the movie. Tengan had always wanted to work with Kawakami and his upcoming move to the mainland motivated him to create a semi-autobiographical movie that mixed fiction with reality. 

“Someone described it as creative nonfiction, and I felt that was a good way to describe it,” Tengan said, summing up the film’s genre.

The cast were Kawakami’s real friends and, as a result, most of the cast mainly used their authentic dynamics with Kawakami. They also filmed Kawakami’s actual apartment as the main character’s apartment.

“I’m just inspired by the people that live here. … It’s such a vibrant, exotic community, and I want to showcase that,” Tengan said. “… I feel lucky to have had very talented friends.”

The film was written in a mere six days and filmed in 13 days. Due to Kawakami moving to the mainland in real life within a few months, they didn’t have time to waste and created the film at an accelerated pace in order to match the deadline for Sundance Film Festival for 2022.

When questioned on how he felt about getting into the Sundance Film Festival, Tengan said, “It was really surreal. I’ve admired and been deeply influenced by so many filmmakers that have come out of Sundance. And now to have a film that’s part of that canon. … I’m really grateful for that.”

The film’s score featured Hawai’i indie bands “Goon Lei Goon” and “Hapa Hunting,” bands that included Kawakami’s real-life friends and gives the film an authentically Hawaiian sound.

“I’ve loved movies my whole life, so, I just wanted to see the world that I know represented on screen,” Tengan said. “It’s sort of what’s always driven me.”

In the future, Tengan plans to re-create his short film “Moloka’i Bound,” which he originally released in 2016, into a feature film, working with the same crew as before.

“We’re sort of finalizing the details with that. Once that’s settled we’ll be kicking into high gear hopefully sometime this year …” said Tengan, who was hesitant to reveal too much.

He hopes to have his next feature film ready within the next two years.

“Every Day in Kaimukī” can be seen at the Consolidated Kāhala Theatres Thursday at 7 p.m. as part of HIFF. Tickets can be bought online here.

“They say that if your dreams don’t scare you, you aren’t dreaming big enough,” Tengan said with a smile. “I’m for sure living a dream, yeah, but there are a lot of things I hope to accomplish in the dreams to come.”