A smaller number of films have been made in Hawaii and actually set in Hawaii. Elvis Presley's 1961 film Blue Hawaii brought much of the beauty of Hawaii to the big screen. The 1966 film of James Michener's Hawaii and its sequel, The Hawaiians were both set and filmed in Hawaii.
It has, however, been some time since a major motion picture has both been filmed in Hawaii and also tell a story of Hawaii. Paul Cox's 1998 motion picture adaptation of Hilde Eynikel's book Molokai: The Story of Father Damien was filmed on O'ahu and Molokai using many local residents in supporting roles.
The film tells the story of Belgian priest Damien DeVeuster from 1872, the year before his arrival in Kalaupapa, through his years ministering to the Hansen's Disease patients at Kalaupapa, until his death at the Molokai settlement in 1889.
This is not an easy film to watch. Men, women and children were ripped from their lives and families and banished to the Kalaupapa peninsula for the rest of their lives because of a disease for which no definitive medical treatment had yet been found. The suffering of those afflicted with what was then called leprosy is graphically documented in the film.
The most moving part of the film, by far, is a scene where the young Princess Lili'uokalani comes to visit the settlement. She is brought to tears by what she sees and pledges to help improve the conditions in Kalaupapa. Before she leaves, she stands before many of the victims and sings "Aloha 'Oe," which was written by the princess.
The film, premiered in Hawaii in September of 1999 and was well received by critics as well as viewers alike. It has also been shown at several international film festivals. It has not, however, received wide national theatrical release, despite an all star cast including Sir. Derek Jacobi, Alice Krige, Kris Kristofferson, Leo McKern, Sam Neill, Peter O'Toole and David Wenham in the title role.
It is likely that those who make the calls for the major theater chains simply did not feel that the film had a wide enough appeal to the broad range of mainland audiences.
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien is now available on video and DVD. The DVD includes an excellent special on the making of the film.
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