Ki Ho‘alu (Loosen the Key): Keola Beamer
Surely the most active, most professional and most important filmmaker on Maui is Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier, the longtime producer-host of Jazz Alley TV. Although he travels the world shooting his television show and making films for others about other places, it was inevitable that he’d bring his world renowned skills home to Maui. Inspired to say something about his home, what do you suppose he chose to say?
He said, Loosen the Key. That’s the English title of Ki Ho‘alu, Burgmaier’s very satisfying documentary film about Hawaiian slack key guitar featuring Keola Beamer.
In the movie, Beamer says, “We see a positive flow of energy… flowing above us.” He explains that slack key, for him, is about trying to be part of that, and to “…make a connection with something….”
You have to wonder how an art form with that depth could be contained in these islands. George Winston, a pretty amazing musician himself and a producer of Beamer recordings, explains. Slack key guitar is less known than other music traditions, he says, partly because Hawai‘i is remote and also because Hawaiian music became known in the Mainland media—the Hollywood products—for its “hapa haole” sounds and for the steel guitar.
Throughout the film, during explanations and performances, biographical episodes and festivals, Beamer’s slack key guitar gives us the multiple, percussive tonalities we know mostly from him as well as the mature, rounded sound we usually associate with any well played Hawaiian slack key. Beamer and the other master of the instrument and its local tunings draw out of their guitars an orchestral richness only a handful of non-Hawaiian guitarist have ever achieved.
That’s slack key. That’s what this film offers us and, thanks to Burgmaier’s fame, the world beyond.
Wa‘a Ho‘olaule‘a: Festival of Canoes
Burgmaier’s other important Maui film is a more traditional documentary. By clinging to the known format—without allowing his film to become formulaic—he creates an actual art work with Wa‘a Ho‘olaule‘a: Festival of Canoes, one that the world can easily recognize. The film was an Official Selection at both the 24th Annual Hawai‘i International Film Festival and the 10th Annual Temecula Valley International Film Festival. It has also won awards as a documentary and for Burgmaier as a director.
It would have been possible to make a documentary about Lahaina’s canoe festival without displaying what it means to be Hawaiian. Well, that would have been possible for someone, but out of the question for Burgmaier.
As writer Rick Chatenever says in the film, “Tourists think that canoes are sort of part of the ‘Disneyland’ background.” He goes on to remind us that when the Polynesians set out on the journeys that brought them to the Hawaiian Islands, the canoes were the “spaceships” of the day, a remarkable technology that required tremendous, even heroic courage to employ.
An outsider’s film of Maui’s International Festival of Canoes would have been interesting, but the local-boy (Burgmaier) version is more than a gloss. Besides the visible celebration and the behind-the-scenes insights, this films gives us the cultural history, personal feelings and Polynesian dreams that are involved.
A Cook Islander says, “To me, the canoe is the community,” spelling out the profound importance of the canoes and canoe culture.
Even though Hawaiians had to reach out to other islanders to relearn some of the arts of the voyaging canoe, Hector Busby, a master carver from New Zealand says, “As far as I’m concerned, if it wasn’t for the Hawaiians, I probably would never have gotten my voyaging canoe… that’s why I come back every year. I owe it to them.”
Wa‘a Ho‘olaule‘a doesn’t just exhibit the canoe festival and its stars, the canoes. It enshrines this emblem of Hawaiian culture and proves that the emblem and the essential culture it represents are very much alive in the 21st century.
The beautiful new film Hawaiian Farmer George Kahumoku is a student film made by what you might call “home-schooled film students.”
The ad for the world premiere of Hawaiian Farmer lists the film as “Directed by Maui’s own 8 year old Nick & Uncle Kenny.” Nick’s Uncle Kenny is better known as Jazz Alley TV’s Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier, the creator of Wa‘a Ho‘olaule‘a: Festival of Canoes and Ki Ho‘alu (Loosen the Key): Keola Beamer.
The subject, Kahumoku, is famous as a slack key master, artist, teacher and author. His 2001 book, A Hawaiian Life, tells of his life as a citizen of modern America born of revered ancient Hawaiian tradition.
Nick’s film documents the teacher-musician-author as a loving family man and Hawaiian farmer.
By the time “Maui’s own 8 year old Nick” and his classmates are adults making films, it’s a safe bet that the Hawaiian characters never will be played by Polish or Dominican actors.
Maui is well on its way to a new tradition of telling its own stories, by making films that come from the heart of Maui.
|Filmmaker, Jazz Alley TV producer-star and festival producer Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier doing his on-camera thing above a dramatic Hawaiian coastline.
||Slack key master George Kahumoku played live at the 2006 Lahaina Film Festival where Ki Ho‘alu, Loosen the Key: Keola Beamer, and Hawaiian Farmer George Kahumoku were shown.