The sound of rattling spray paint cans interrupts the pitter-patter of rainfall hitting the pavement. Graffiti artists Estria and Prime are priming large walls that are to be the canvas of their newest mural in the middle of Waimea Town on Hawai‘i Island, where students of all ages are soon to arrive, eager to paint. While others would have surrendered to the elements and abandoned the piece until the weather cleared, Estria, Prime, and the determined youth continue on. For them, the rain is a blessing from their ancestors to paint their song and story for the whole town to see.
This scene is from Mele Murals, a documentary by Tadashi Nakamura that tells of the transformative power of graffiti art as an exciting way for the young generation of Native Hawaiians to tell stories through a new art form. The film is centered on the two renowned street artists Estria Miyashiro and John “Prime” Hina, perhaps more aptly called storytellers, and their mentorship of a group of Native Hawaiian youth from the community of lush Waimea.
“My general mission as a filmmaker is to show a little bit more of a dynamic view of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Nakamura says. An Asian American filmmaker from Los Angeles, Nakamura directed Mele Murals in partnership with ʻŌiwi TV and Pacific Islanders in Communications. Named as one of CNN’s “Young People Who Rock” for being the youngest filmmaker at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, Nakamura is the talent behind numerous award-winning documentaries about the Japanese-American experience, such as Yellow Brotherhood (2003), Pilgrimage (2007), and A Song for Ourselves (2009).
Hawai‘i first caught the lens of Nakamura during the filming of A Song for Ourselves, an intimate journey into the life and music of Asian American Movement troubadour and University of Hawai‘i law professor Chris Iijima; followed by a moving documentary about the Hawai‘i-born ‘ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. It was during the filming of Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings that ʻŌiwi TV approached Nakamura to create Mele Murals.
On November 6, Nakamura will unveil Mele Murals at the 36th Hawai‘i International Film Festival, where it is nominated for the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary. “We really just wanted to provide a window … to show that the Hawaiian community, the Hawaiian culture, and Hawaiian language are alive and thriving,” Nakamura says.
While Estria and Prime’s intention with the focal project of the documentary was to impact the students and the town, in the end, it was the students and kūpuna who influenced the artists the most. “The dream was to give them more accessibility to this art form and to get better than my generation could have ever been,” Prime says in the film.
Mele Murals captures all of the struggles, spiritual realizations, and deep connections that the team of artists experienced throughout their time in Waimea. More importantly, it portrays the power of connectivity, which is expressed upon their giant canvas.
Mele Murals premieres Sunday, November 6 at 7 p.m. at the IBM Building Courtyard. Additional screenings:
November 8, 3 p.m., Dole Cannery
November 12, 5:30 p.m., Regal Kapolei
November 17, 7 p.m., Hilo Palace Theater
November 18, 6 p.m., Kaua‘i Waimea Theater