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Kūpuna documents the small Hawaiian town of La'ie through the experiences and collective memories of its elderly, indigenous residents.
250 backers pledged $30,356 to help bring this project to life.

Recent updates


Some Fun Updates!



I hope this update finds you well. As you might recall, about six weeks ago we were invited to submit our project again to Tribeca Film Institute's interactive grant. Since the time I first launched this project, and then spent 5 weeks in La'ie interviewing and photographing, the project has taken a more clear form and I wanted to highlight a couple of those changes. 

1) We decided (for now) to hold off on the 60 minute documentary. We'll be producing a lot more than 60 minutes of documentary content within the interactive experience, but producing both was proving problematic for several reasons. It felt very much like we were trying to create two separate projects, and it was detracting us from moving ahead on either of them. Additionally, feedback from our grant applications revealed that depending on the granting organization's primary interest (interactive OR traditional documentary), one or the other detracted and distracted the reviewers. It was clear that setting out to do both was hindering our fundraising efforts. I haven't found the best way to articulate our internal struggle, because I've been trying to hang on to both, but when we started discussing the option of focusing on the interactive interface and telling that story, it just felt right. The team decided it was best to focus on the interactive site primarily, and producing the best possible content for that medium. At a later date, I may decide it's an appropriate thing to produce, but for now, it's on the back burner. 

2) We've honed in on a user interface! The interface is how a visitor to a site experiences the content. Over the last year, this component has caused me a great deal of stress as it's the single most important part (aside from the actual content) of what we're producing. After a lot of debate and discussion with the development team, I had a Eureka! moment about three weeks ago, and I'm really excited about where we're headed. Since Hawaiian culture and storytelling is intimately connected to the land, I always knew great care would be taken to document “place,” both scenic and sacred. But I believe that an online experience like this lends itself well to an “interactive landscape” in ways that other mediums cannot easily achieve.

Maps are an ubiquitous part of the modern internet experience. We use them every day, and we navigate them almost without thinking, and yet the interface which drives that experience is still two-dimensional, and has remained largely unmodified since the internet was introduced to mass audiences in the mid-1990s (MapQuest!). Kupuna Interactive’s primary navigation tool will be map-based. We’d like to leverage the second-nature familiarity of maps, but embed within that experience our content, and indigenous Hawaiian ways of seeing the land and its shifting borders. If you were to ask me what the one innovation was from this project after it was produced, I'd say we rethought what was possible with maps by using one as the primary storytelling device in this expansive project. We’d like to turn the idea of traditional map interaction on its head, moving from a utilitarian exercise of necessity, to an exploratory experience imbued with meaning and significance. An experience with meaning that spans generations, and taps into the community’s near 200-year recorded history. AWESOME! (I really am stoked about this)

3) The university archive has become a main character. We are thrilled at what we will be able to do with our unrestricted access to the university archive. Untold historical treasures are held within the walls of the archive, and yet the university nor the community, has a way for the public to easily access the materials. We will be "mediating the archive" by utilizing a curated selection of items to help enhance and tell a better story. 

4) Robert Hall (our technical director) is headed to La'ie! This Thursday, Robert will head to Hawaii to check out the archive and to meet with Dr. Kali Fermantez, one of Kupuna's producers and our main cultural advisor. A first hand look and face to face with our team in La'ie is overdue, and we're excited for this development. I'll be headed over later this summer as well, and will provide more info on that trip in a later update. 

5) We were invited to submit Kupuna to the 2014 New Frontier Story Lab, hosted by the Sundance Institute. Last week Robert submitted our application and letter of intent to be considered for a week long, intensive work session in Park City, Utah with the Sundance Film festival institute and their immersive interactive session in October. We were thrilled to be invited to apply, and will keep you posted as that develops. Fingers crossed! 

6) We have a new working title! Kupuna Interactive: Looking Forward, to the Past 
I was trying to come up with a better title than just Kupuna Interactive, and was inspired after reading Dr. Hokulani Aikau's essay on some of the contemporary struggles that face La'ie and its Hawaiian residents as they grapple with honoring the past. I've also thought a lot about the idea that we walk backwards into the future. We can't see what's ahead, but we can get a good look at what happend in the past. And more importantly, we cannot do this effectively without our elders. La'ie cannot do this without its kupuna. I think the working title is fitting of the project. What do you think? 

That sums up the highlights from the last 6 weeks. My next update will include a report from Robert on his trip to La'ie, as well as some updates to how we're progressing with the development of the interface itself. We're also going to be overhauling the content on the current website to reflect the changes in the proposal, as we continue to work toward our next steps of developing the interface, and sourcing funding opportunities to finish the project in a timely manner. Our kickstarter funds were always intended to get the ball rolling, and while the timeline isn't what I was expecting, I'm excited about the attention we're getting and the invitations we've been receiving as we move forward in this rare, and important, storytelling adventure. 

I can't thank you enough for your support, and your patience, throughout this process. Please stay tuned! Also, please send positive vibes for our Tribeca grant application and our Sundance opportunity - we need all the chances we can get to let this project shine!

Much aloha,


PS: You can download our most recent proposal from dropbox by clicking here

Checking in.

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Checking In


This update is overdue, but I wanted to share some news with you. Some is sad, and some is really great. 

Late last fall and in the early new year, I applied for several large grants to help fund what I envision producing for Kūpuna. After we met our goal on Kickstarter, I spent 6 weeks in La'ie working with photographer Jonathan Canlas to photograph the area, the kūpuna from La'ie, and lush landscape. Fellow filmmaker Jerry Thompson spent 2 weeks with me interviewing and filming whatever and whoever we could. We spent time in the archives, and interviewing and getting to better know the stewards of this fascinating small town, and the very real struggles this community face. 

I spent a lot of time with the other producers on the project (who are long-time residents of La'ie), Phillip McArthur, Kali Fermantez, and Matt Kester, as we discussed complications and considerations moving forward. 

You can see a fraction of the photos Jonathan took from his trip over on his blog, here:

When my time concluded, I knew I had some amazing material, but not enough to begin putting the experience together. I had pieces, but not nearly enough to make the whole. Part of this is just the documentary process, but the other part is the monumental task it is to document an entire place! I did as much thinking and planning on this trip as I did filming.   

In April, my first feature film The Elders, premiered at the Independent Film Festival Boston and received a glowing review by Boston Globe and Chicago Sun Times film critic Peter Keough, where he also gave a great plug to Kupuna. The experience energized me about Kūpuna and I was enjoying promoting "my next project" with those interested at the festival. Things were looking up!

About two weeks ago, I received word from all the granting agencies I had applied to, that Kūpuna had not been selected for funding. I was gutted. I felt for sure we were a shoe-in on two of the grants (worth about $100k), but alas, it wasn't to be. After some pouting, I'm re-working our scope so that we can still deliver in spring 2014 without having to rely on the unpredictable and drawn-out grant cycle. Great progress is being made here, and I'm excited about where we're headed. 

Meanwhile, I've been working closely with the development and design team for Kūpuna on a project we started in 2011, called Hollow, about community and the impact of population loss in rural West Virginia. The project has a lot in common with Kūpuna, and is directed by the talented Elaine McMillion, a West Virginia native. That project went live today, and was featured on the front page of the New York Times

We also received an amazing review by the Huffington Post, which you can check out here, calling what we had developed "Magnificent" while other industry heavy-hitters said it was "game-changing." What's exciting, is that our entire team just scored an exciting win with that project, paving the way for what we'll be able to produce with Kūpuna. I would encourage you to check out that project, Hollow, and get a feel for what interactive documentaries can truly achieve. You'll need Google Chrome, and a decent internet connection. 

As for some general housekeeping, some of the rewards will be going out later this summer: the photos, film downloads (The Elders), soundtrack (The Elders), postcards, archival prints, photo book, etc., and we'll be headed back to La'ie in July/August for more filming. 

Thanks for your continued patience support as we bring this project to fruition, and I hope you enjoy Hollow as a primer of what's in store next year!





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We Did It!

That was a very close horse race, no two ways about it. I'm still a little beside myself. In the last 72 hours we doubled our funds and doubled the number of backers on the project. I'm really excited that so many of you will be along for the journey throughout the next year.

I'll be sending a thank you note to each of you in the coming days, but know that I am sincerely grateful for everything you've contributed to make this happen.

Special thanks to members of the team that have been working behind the scenes to make this fundraiser possible: Michelle Larson, Rich Vial, Robert Hall, Kristal Williams, Jonathan Canlas, Elaine McMillion and many others who have put up with my emails, texts, and phone calls for ideas. And again, to each of you. Thank you so much!

Have a lovely holiday and then lets get to work!



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