Arts and Culture

Beyond the “Hawaii Life” TV Show – What to Watch While You Canʻt Visit

I dislike the term “social distancing.” We are social creatures, and I fervently hope that while physical distancing is a necessity, we continue to stay socially close and connected. Equally painful can be a sense of distance from places that we love, places that nurture us.

While you are stuck at home, you could entertain yourself with old episodes of the Hawaii Life TV show. Or maybe now you have time to dive deeper into the places, history, and culture of Hawaii. Here are some suggestions for films and music to keep you connected and help you educate yourself as a current or future property owner. I will tackle reading — both serious and light — in a second post.

Filming Hawaii Life TV show

Behind the scenes: filming “Hawaii Life” episode 1313 in my backyard. Can you tell my dog has “seen this movie” before?

The Descendants: Conservation and Legacy Lands 101

Hanalei Valley

Hard to believe it was almost a decade ago that The Descendants, the film adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings 2007 novel, hit the big screen. Most of the action in this drama about an old kamaʻaina family takes place on Oʻahu. But George Clooney as protagonist Matt King flies to the Big Island to bring back his daughter who is a boarding student at the film equivalent of Waimeaʻs Hawaii Preparatory Academy, and takes his family to Kauai to visit the huge estate that the family trust of which he is trustee is about to sell.

Watch carefully, and you will see that many of the small details are right to create the sense of place. The Tori Richard shirts. The Pegge Hopper print on the wall. In an early scene, the mother of his younger daughterʻs classmate calls Clooney. The pitch and cadence of her voice tell you immediately sheʻs from here. Take a deep breath, and you can smell the humidity in the air.

If you can tear yourself away from the nuclear family drama, the plot line about the extended family and community dynamics surrounding the impending sale of the thousands of acres the “descendants” have inherited will give you a cinematic taste of the real world dynamics that led Hawaii Life to create our Conservation and Legacy Lands initiative. Because while much of our work is on a micro scale to protect a few acres of shoreline bird habitat or a singular view, there are also, still, opportunities to save some of the last intact holdings that are in single ownership for much the reason that the fictional “King family” has their holding on the North Shore of Kauai. Dillingham Ranch on Oʻahu. Molokaʻi Ranch. What I call “The Lands Formerly Known as KPCT” on Hawaiʻi Island. These are the possibilities still out there to change the face of Hawaiʻi for the better for generations to come, by preserving legacy lands.

For a more challenging independent movie version of the same land dilemma told from the perspective of a native Hawaiian family, check out my earlier blog post about Kuleana, the movie. Not yet available on streaming, you could support the local filmmaker by purchasing the DVD.

Slack Key Guitar: the Soundtrack

The distinctive soundtrack to The Descendants is like a “greatest hits” of kī hōʻalu or slack key guitar, the distinctive Hawaiʻian style of guitar in which the strings are “slacked” to different tunings. So once you have watched or re-watched the movie, paying attention to the music, you could create a slack key playlist or two…or watch some videos to educate yourself on slack key…or if you play, perhaps take lessons online while you are home.

Makana at Kahilu Theatre 2020

Slack key artist Makana performs at Kahilu Theatre in March 2020

Just sticking with artists who you will hear on the soundtrack…

The NY Times movie critics suggested a film for everyone to watch together this week (Top Gun!) and invited readers to post comments in an “online viewing party.” Feel free to post your comments on The Descendants, Kuleana, or slack key music and let me know you are still reading!

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April 1, 2020

Aloha Beth, Thanks for sharing these great shows, movies and pictures that bring us mainlanders just a tiny glimpse of Hawaii’s magic. I visited Oahu last year and have been saving for another trip, or possibly even purchase property if I can learn enough about it! May your family stay safe and well during these times.

Beth Thoma Robinson

April 2, 2020

Thank you for your comment, Faith. Stay healthy as well, and we will look forward to welcoming you back to the islands.

Jennifer Lauri

April 2, 2022

Having been to the Hawaiian islands five times, the music of Israel (Iz) as well as local artist Eddie Tanaka brings the Hawaiian feeling back to me when at home in New York. When “The Descendants” soundtrack came out I was blown away by the slack guitar sounds and finger pickings. Being a novice player myself since the age of 11, I appreciated the beauty of the melodies played on my favorite instrument.

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