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For 40 years, grassroots activist Walter Ritte has brought controversy and courage to the front lines of the Native Hawaiian Movement.
212 backers pledged $40,157 to help bring this project to life.

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$40,157

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Thanks to our fiscal sponsor, Molokai Arts Center 501c3, donations are tax-deductible!

We need your help to raise production funding for this documentary, so we can bring it to a national audience on PBS. Please Like and share our Facebook page for updates.

Story

For 40 years, Walter Ritte has been one of Hawaii's most powerful advocates for Aloha ‘Āina, a multi-layered cultural belief in love of land that became his lifelong call to action. His activism has deep roots in his home island of Molokai. 

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40-years ago, at the age of 30, Walter Ritte was jobless and struggling to feed his wife and children on Molokai. Arable lands were hoarded by pineapple companies, hunting grounds were restricted by corporate landowners, and Native Hawaiians were marginalized by an imposing American system. Ritte chose to break the law to put food on his family’s table. This first rebellious step launched him into a lifetime of activism and set him on a personal path to understanding his identity as a Native Hawaiian. ​ 

Walter Ritte at a Hui Alaloa protest march in 1975.
Walter Ritte at a Hui Alaloa protest march in 1975.

As a young man Ritte successfully fought for Native Hawaiian access rights on Molokai. He soon found himself on the dangerous front lines of an effort to stop the US Navy from bombing the Island of Kaho`olawe. During this time, Ritte and his comrades encountered a world of hidden cultural knowledge held by a handful of kupuna (elders). Under their quiet guidance, the young activists learned about Aloha ‘Āina and other core cultural values that would empower their growing movement. 

Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer are sentenced to 6-months in prison for their 35-day occupation of Kaho'olawe in an effort to stop the military from bombing the island.
Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer are sentenced to 6-months in prison for their 35-day occupation of Kaho'olawe in an effort to stop the military from bombing the island.

After serving prison time for his protests on Kaho`olawe, Ritte retreated from public life and lived off the land with his family for 2-years in remote Pelekunu Valley. As he retraced ancient paths, he realized that Aloha ‘Āina was not just an abstract concept, it was a way of life that required commitment and sacrifice. It was also the key to his ancestors’ ability to thrive in the most isolated archipelago on earth. This awakening has fueled Ritte's efforts through today.

Walter and his family living off the land in remote Pelekunu Valley.
Walter and his family living off the land in remote Pelekunu Valley.

Now in his 70s, Ritte is an icon among Hawaiian activists and is known far beyond the islands for his fiery persona and controversial stands. His subversive actions have gained him both passionate supporters and fierce opponents. Few, though, can deny that Ritte has played a critical role in advancing environmental protection and Native Rights in Hawaii.

Ritte's activism has not been one solely of opposition. He is credited for playing major roles in the movement to rebuild ancient Hawaiian fishponds and to resurrect Hawaiian Makahiki traditions. He has also spent decades building Hui o Kuapā (see video below), a Hawaiian learning center that today serves as a model of sustainability based on ancient Hawaiian values. 

Ritte has led a complex and often misunderstood life. The proposed 1-hour documentary will be an intimate portrait of his turbulent early years and his birth as an activist. It will look back at his evolution from a hotheaded young rebel to a seasoned community organizer. By exploring deeply personal reflections and the recollections of his closest supporters and detractors, this film will give rare insight into the private life of an often contentious public figure. Walter’s story will also provide a unique window into the genesis of the Native Hawaiian Movement and how it reshaped modern Hawaii.

Filmmakers

Co-Producer & Director Matt Yamashita of Quazifilms is an award-winning filmmaker from the island of Molokai. Most recently, he produced the documentary "Sons of Halawa" (trailer below) that saw national PBS broadcast and national and international film festival screenings. 

Yamashita is teaming up with Co-Producer John Antonelli of Mill Valley Film Group who produced and directed the highly acclaimed documentary, "Sam Cooke: Crossing Over" (trailer below) for PBS American Masters. 

The Walter Ritte documentary will be the second major project that Yamashita and Antonelli will co-produce together. Their previous project "The Roots of 'Ulu" will broadcast on PBS in 2017 and has won multiple national and international film festival awards.

Joan Lander, of the highly celebrated Na Maka O Ka 'Aina production company and producer of "Act of War – The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation," (trailer below) is also on the creative team as associate producer. 

Jessica Abbe, who wrote and co-produced the "Standing on Sacred Ground" (trailer below) documentary series, is serving as writer.

Keoni Lee, executive-producer of the award winning Hawaiian documentary “Mele Murals” is on-board to assist with story and production development.

We are committed to working with and training Native Hawaiian filmmakers in the telling of this story. We currently have three additional Hawaiian crew members from the island of Molokai committed to the project. Napua Leong is serving as an associate producer; Mickey Pauole is shooting aerial footage and production stills; and Josiah Ching is on-board as assistant camera and sound operator. 

Project Status

We have completed the bulk of pre-production and planning for this new project with R&D support from Pacific Islanders in Communications

We hope to begin shooting principal photography in the Spring of 2017. Post-production will likely take us through the Summer of 2018. We hope to have the world premiere late 2018 with PBS broadcast in 2019.    

How Kickstarter Donations Will Be Used

We need your support for this project to continue early production and to allow us access to additional production grants that require matching funds. Specifically, your donations will be used to shoot additional key interviews; dig deep into public and private archives for photos and videos that will help bring the story to life; and to develop a strong sample video that will be used to win funding from highly competitive documentary funding sources. This early phase of production is critical to the success of the film.

Thanks to our fiscal sponsor, Molokai Arts Center, donations are tax-deductible.

 

Risks and challenges

We are taking on a very complex story about a very complex and often controversial public figure who has been actively fighting to decolonize Hawaii for 40-years. It will not be easy subject matter to represent. We are committed, however, to telling this story with as much objectivity and perspective as possible. We have a diverse team of seasoned filmmakers on-board to help maintain the integrity of the project. Walter Ritte also understands that the filmmaker team is to have full editorial control over the story and, in his own words, wants us to "tell the truth."

The timing to complete a film is always a challenge and is often dependent on a range of factors. Securing necessary funding to keep the project moving through each phase has the biggest influence on completion timing. Normally, funding is secured in steps and in portions from various funding sources. We have a seasoned team of producers behind this project that have developed a comprehensive funding strategy. We have already received R&D support form Pacific Islanders in Communications, a minority consortia member of CPB, and have multiple proposals out for additional PBS and private funding. While the timeline for completion could shift, we are confident that the project will be completed. The track record of our filmmaker team proves that we have the capability and experience to see this project through.

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    VIP at Film Premiere

    Sit with cast and crew at one of our premiere festival screenings (transportation not provided) and join us for the post-screening gathering as one of our VIP's. We will have post-screening events for our World Premiere, Hawaii Premiere, West Coast Premiere, and possibly others. Your name listed in both broadcast and film festival/DVD version credits. Your donation also earns you 5 DVD's, a signed poster, as well as a special online pre-release screening of the film when it is completed.

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    A Day with Walter

    Spend a day with Walter Ritte on Molokai (airfare not included). Also, join cast and crew as a VIP at one of our Film Festival Premiere events. Your name listed in both broadcast and film festival/DVD version credits. Your donation also earns you 5 DVD's, a signed poster, as well as a special online pre-release screening of the film when it is completed.

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Funding period

- (38 days)