Kama’āina (Child of the Land): Award-Winning LGBTQ Short Film about Teenage Homelessness

Synopsis: After suffering abuse from her stepfather, a queer sixteen-year-old must navigate life on the streets, until she eventually finds refuge at the Pu’uhonua o Wai’anae––Hawaiʻi’s largest organized homeless encampment.

Kama’āina (Child of the Land)
Directed by Kimi Howl Lee

“With its picturesque beachy landscapes, the Hawaiian archipelago is at the forefront of many minds as a desired location for a dream vacation. However, with one of the highest homeless rates per capita in the US, as well as one of the highest rates of homeless youth, life for the residents of the islands can be quite different from the one that tourists encounter. In Kama’āina (Child of the Land), writer/director Kimi Howl Lee takes us to Wai’anae, a predominantly native corner of the Oahu island, where influencers rarely venture. Following Mahina, a young woman who had to flee her abusive household, Lee’s thought-provoking and insightful 17-minute film offers a sensitive and authentic approach to chronicling the unfortunate reality and resilience of many LGBTQIA teens.

The motivation for Lee’s film comes from a personal place. As a teenager, spending her summer in Oahu, the director had a fling with a local boy that she came to realize was living out of his car. “Having been romantically involved with someone my age – who was ostensibly homeless – remains one of the most profound, thought-provoking experiences of my life.” she tells us while dwelling on the inspiration behind her film.

Being confronted by this hidden side of the island led her on a journey of self-reflection, sparking a will to shed light on the harsh poverty and homeless crisis, that eventually materialized into the story for Kama’āina. By centering the story around a teenager, the narrative is deepened with a coming-of-age layer. Allowing the situation to be explored with both innocence and understanding, while giving depth to Mahina, the main character, and increasing the audience’s emotional engagement.

Despite how tragic and traumatic the life experience of some of these kids can be, Lee does not use it to serve her narrative by fetishizing poverty. Instead, opting for a realistic process, she cast mostly homeless, first-time actors, including the outstanding and magnetic lead Malia Kamalani – whose life story is the basis for Kamaʻāina. Having permission to shoot in the community adds an extra, essential layer of authenticity to the film and ultimately draws the audience further into her emotive narrative.

Re-enacting her own experiences (to some extent), Malia Kamalani feels like a natural in front of the camera. Portraying a complex, compelling character with a strong personality, she plays the role with perfect subtlety, never pushing for an overly dramatic reaction. Lee captures slight but defining moments from her day to build her character, which Kamalani then injects with a rare sensibility.

The emotional release at the end Kamaʻāina came as somewhat of a surprise, as Lee doesn’t push forcefully on the emotional trigger throughout the film. Cleverly using the contrast between the location and the trauma her character has endured to highlight the unjust situation (both in the film and in real-life), it was the emotional climax of her facing the water, that had me turn on the waterworks.

Kamaʻāina was an official selection at Outfest Fusion and won Best LGBTQ+ Short at the Palm Springs ShortFest ahead of its online release under the Nowness flagship. Kimi Howl Lee was selected for Film Independent’s 2019 Episodic Lab, she is currently a story editor on Netflix’s Locke & Key and was recently staffed on Amazon’s upcoming and (very much) awaited The Expatriates.’ – S/W Curator, Céline Roustan

Cast & Crew:

Malia Kamalani Soon – Mahina
Aria Alexander – Cashier
Twinkle Borge – Twinkle
Nainoa Brown-Kahananui – Nainoa
Sabina Friedman-Seitz – Shayla
Alex Suvusa – Alex

Scott Ray – Cinematographer
Evita Yup Zhoe – Editor
Austin Lau – Gaffer
Elliana Moore – 1s AC
Aubrey Woodiwiss – Colorist
Briana Brackett – Assistant Colorist
Colin Lee – Location Manager
Michael Alemania – Composer
Miya Colleen Lee – 1st AD
Kiki Matsu – Prop Master
Nick Hallbisback – Sound Recordist
Aidan Reynolds – Sound Mixer
Alex Vazelakis – Music Supervisor
Keila Roberts – Graphic Designer

Special Thanks:
Justyn Ah Chong
Mac Arvee Lopez Blue
Walea L. Constantinau
Richard Hamasaki
Jennifer Dang
Annie Li
Adam Luafalemana-Fuiava
Queenie Marcello-Filo
James Pakele
Loretta Soon
Sight and Sound Studios
Erin Uchida
City and Country of Honolulu

Music in this video
Learn more
Song: Lost My Mind
Artist: Lil Wop
Album: Wopavelli 2
Licensed to YouTube by: EMPIRE, Create Music Group, Inc. (on behalf of Bases Loaded Records); LatinAutorPerf, Abramus Digital, BMI – Broadcast Music Inc., Create Music Publishing, LatinAutor, and 3 Music Rights Societies
Song: Phenomenon
Artist: Odie
Album: Analogue
Licensed to YouTube by: EMPIRE (on behalf of Unité Recordings / EMPIRE); ASCAP, Sony ATV Publishing, and 6 Music Rights Societies

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