HTA Interns Champion Culture Using ‘Ōlelo Production Skills

ʻŌlelo first connected with Hawaii Technology Academy (HTA) through our island-wide youth media program, Junior Academy for Media (JAM). ʻŌlelo’s Waipahu Center Manager Neal Rivera and Senior Associate Justin Kuwamura spearheaded the partnership. Students were eager to get trained and participate in anything and everything video-related. As a result, Neal and HTA’s media teacher Deborah Morita took a group of 6 to lead the charge in empowering community voices through video.  

After training, their first major “gig” was volunteering to cover the Hawaiʻi Plantation Village’s 2021 Obon Festival. This significant community event honoring spirits of ancestors was forced to go virtual for the first time in its 31-year existence due to the ongoing global pandemic. Without the in-person comradery, the booming of taiko drums, savory foodstuffs, and warm hanging lanterns, one would quickly dismiss a virtual Obon festival as inferior to the real thing. So, the interns had the daunting challenge of re-creating that special joy that the festival provided to generations of community members for decades.

The HTA interns record a cultural practitioner on location at the Hawaiʻi Plantation Village.

With an arsenal of ʻŌlelo equipment (HD cameras, wireless mics, tripods, and an OSMO steady cam gimbal), the HTA interns set forth to produce an oral history of the festival combined with exclusive interviews and performances for the event. Hawaiʻi Plantation Village coordinated the featured performers/guests and provided a venue to record each segment. They recorded Taiko drum and dance performances and interviews with cultural practitioners. Capturing the content was gold for the students, not only as a way to sharpen their technical skills, but also to expand their overall appreciation for their community and these cultural traditions. 

View the HTA interns’ work on the Hawaiʻi Plantation Village’s 2021 virtual Obon Festival here. 

ʻŌlelo manager Neal noticed an increase in the students’ confidence levels. “Before, some students were hesitant to take any kind of control on a production. Now, everyone wants to be a director. Everyone wants to have a hand in creating a stunning production. That kind of growth is truly invaluable.”   

Since the Obon Festival project, HTA interns and students have been very active in pursuing their videography passions. They live-streamed their school’s graduation ceremony and plays for Island Pacific Academy. 2022 is HTA’s third year entering ʻŌlelo’s statewide Youth Xchange student video competition, having had a winner each contest in prior years they’ve entered. They were also given a uniquely exclusive opportunity to meet Maui-born Hollywood director Destin Daniel Crettin (Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) through the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival. 

The HTA interns shot the Moanalua track meet.

“Neal and Justin have provided a rich learning experience for our students,” says teacher Deborah Morita. “I stepped into the video program at our school with absolutely no background knowledge in media. Our program has been built on the skills that I learned through ʻŌlelo.” 

Neal sees ʻŌlelo’s future as serving Hawaiʻi’s education sector with media consultation, training, dialogue, and resources that help educators and students alike survive the ever-evolving dependence on virtual media. 

HTA students conduct an interview on opening day at the state capitol for Youth Capitol Commentary.

HTA is Hawai’i’s largest statewide public charter school, serving more than 1,100 students in Learning Centers across four islands (Hawaiʻi, Kauai, Maui, and Oʻahu). Even prior to 2020, HTA had already been implementing a quality online curriculum. So much so, other institutions and organizations, including ʻŌlelo, saw the value to partner during the COVID-19 crisis. With the rapid shift to remote learning and an exploding demand for video-based communication, a handful of HTA’s media students made a difference in their community. They rose to the challenge to assist with much-needed video coverage, and in a year when hope seemed lost to an entire community that they would not get to enjoy the annual tradition of Obon, HTA students came through!  

HTA and ʻŌlelo continue to support each other’s efforts in mentoring young people on being active and engaged in their community. 

Written by Dane Neves, Communications Specialist, and Angela Angel, Chief Creative Officer