Kupuna: An Interactive Documentary


Press Contact: Michelle Larson
Email: info@kupunainteractive.com
December 2012

Independent Filmmaker Returns to Kickstarter to Fund Interactive Documentary Featuring Indigenous, Elderly Hawaiians

Boston, MA – When independent filmmaker and producer Nathaniel Hansen first found the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.com in 2009, he said he “instinctively knew it would change the lives of artists around the world,” and it appears he wasn’t wrong, not by a long shot.

Since Kickstarter opened its doors in 2008, the crowdfunding site has helped over 33,000 projects raise more than $367M. Of that, Hansen can claim a fair share, having raised $12,519 for his first project along with an additional $500k he’s credited with helping raise as a consultant or strategist for projects run by friends and colleagues. Some of these projects have raised more than $100k, and many have gone on to win awards and accolades around the world. “It sounds lofty,” Hansen says, “but being involved in a crowdfunding campaign will change your life. It changed mine, and from a creative and professional perspective there are few things more rewarding than seeing a worthy project receive funding. It’s inspiring for the fans and contributors and the whole process is humbling and exhilarating for the artists.”

With his first project funded in 2010, a documentary about the elderly in America, Hansen said that his primary goal was to see if the crowdfunding model actually worked, and if it could be a method for funding his future work. “Launching that first campaign was nerve-racking, and exhausting, but the stress paid off. After 21 days we exceeded the goal and I received a follow-up call from a non-profit that was watching the campaign. They double-matched what I had raised. Four weeks later I was on the road and would produce a film that would leave a lasting impression on not only my life, but hopefully on the lives of those who have the chance to see it.”

In November 2011, Hansen was invited to screen the finished film as part of a keynote lecture at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, where he completed his undergraduate studies a decade earlier. At a post-screening lunch, he was encouraged to expand the project to include an even further-marginalized group of elders, indigenous Hawaiians. “I was very interested in expanding the project, but I wanted to create something I didn’t have the resources to produce with The Elders. I wanted my next project to be interactive.”

What Hansen is referring to is a somewhat new method of digital storytelling that allows users to interact with the narrative and its subjects on the web via their computer, a tablet, or mobile device. “There is always a place for linear storytelling, but some stories are best-suited for retelling in a way that’s more inherently immersive and also demands some level of user-interaction,” Hansen said.

This time on Kickstarter, Hansen and his team are looking to raise a minimum of $30,000. “The goal represents about a quarter of our total budget for this project, but it would allow us to film all the interviews and get development started. We have some matching funds that are contingent on our ability to raise this first amount, and we’ve applied to a number of cultural and technology grants I’m confident we’ll have a shot at winning.”

According to the project website, Hansen’s latest project Kūpuna, “is a portrait of a rural community as told through the lives, memories, and stories of elderly Hawaiians born and raised in the small town of La’ie, Hawaii, on the north shore of O’ahu.” If funded by December 21st, Hansen points out that the finished project will rely on a variety of media to help tell “the whole La’ie story.” Through interviews with elders and residents, hula and other cultural performances, scenic footage of the local land, interactive genealogies, archival footage and photos, as well as three animated cultural myths the project will provide users and the community with a rich and contextualized look at a town diverse as any on the planet.

The backdrop for this project is the town of La’ie, a town with human roots stretching back at least 2000 years. The town became a Mormon outpost in the Pacific during the 19th century, and its own coming of age over the last 150 years makes it, according to Hansen, ground zero for an interactive documentary, “In today’s world we witness the increasing intersection of global forces in the day-to-day life of local communities, and interactive documentaries are very well-positioned to explore these complicated but important stories. La’ie’s history and its diverse population make for compelling and rich storytelling.”

La’ie, with a population of around 6,000, has a number of diverse groups struggling to have their stories and interests represented: a worldwide church, a top-rated university, an underrepresented indigenous Hawaiian minority, diasporic Polynesians, and transient/displaced mainlanders, among others, all make up the local population. Hansen points out that the Hawaiian narrative is key to the project, noting “most histories have focused on the colonization/Christianization of the town, neglecting innumerable local narratives, and when they are mentioned it’s very simplified or strictly in the context of a cultural event or missionary stories. We’re looking to examine the whole story of this town both ancient and modern, and you just can’t do that in a 60 minute film, or even in one book, which is why we’ve made this project interactive, web-based, and free to the public once we launch.”

Dr. Kali Fermantez, a professor of Hawaiian studies and one of the film’s producers, spoke of the backseat Hawaiian culture has taken recently, noting specifically that “Kūpuna (Hawaiian elders) can metaphorically make time stand still … This project will put the kūpuna and Hawaiian culture front and center in a way that needs to happen.” Similarly, addressing the vital role these local elders play in modern Hawaiian life, Dr. Matt Kester, the film’s producing historian and archivist, said that “these elders play such an important advisory role in the way that our communities are defined and the way they’re shaped, and through public opinion.” After a series of meetings and preliminary interviews with kupuna in September 2012, Hansen and the rest of his producing team have been given unprecedented access to a group often overlooked by the mainstream media.

Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition for its project originators. Once a project is launched, the timeline cannot be altered, and the funding goal is locked. If the project reaches or exceeds its goal, the project is successful. If not, then no money changes hands, and most teams regroup and try to understand where the campaign went wrong.
“I’d be the first to tell you that this is a bad time of year to be fundraising, especially in our current economic situation. I’d be the first to tell you that – but this project is so time-sensitive I didn’t want to wait. One of the elders I wanted to feature in the project passed away not too long ago, and another is not in good health. If you get involved to help capture these stories – I promise the experience will change your life. I know it’s changed mine.”

Hansen and his post-production team are currently wrapping up a similar documentary project, Hollow, based in rural West Virginia and directed by Elaine McMillion. Hollow was funded through Kickstarter.com, in addition to a prestigious grant from the Tribeca Film Institute, and the West Viriginia Humanities Council.
Funding for Kūpuna ends on December 21st, at midnight EST. If you would like more information on the project, the team behind it, or the town, please visit http://www.kupunainteractive.com or http://kck.st/Tqcuhe

Contact: Michelle Larson or Nathaniel Hansen
Email: info@kupunainteractive.com or nh@nathanielhansen.com
December 2012


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