Filmmaker Christopher Yogi tackles his toughest subject matter to date: Hawaii.
To make a movie about Hawaii — one that’s entertaining and realistic to both locals and the rest of the world — is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Hawaii is so complex, so diverse a place that it’s unthinkable that any film, really, could capture its essence.
“This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the entirety of my film school education,” admits Christopher Yogi, a Hawaii-born filmmaker who’s currently residing in Los Angeles. His latest film, Layover, on the Shore, which makes its world premiere at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival, is both his MFA thesis film for the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and a movie that attempts to dissect what makes Hawaii Hawaii.
“The idea of Hawaii is so overwhelming that any serious film about Hawaii will have to deal with this immense abstraction,” Yogi says.
Before matriculating at the same film school attended by the likes of Hollywood giants George Lucas and Judd Apatow, Yogi was here, in Hawaii, honing both his writing and filmmaking skills.
“I had a small Sony miniDV camera that [I] would carry around with me to film ideas that were floating around in my head,” he says. These formal experiments were coupled with committing his ideas and thoughts to paper. “I spent most of my time writing,” he says. “I thought, that’s what filmmakers did, they wrote.”
Yogi’s penchant for writing seemed natural, though, since he was an English Major at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There, he managed to assemble his first narrative film, Every Night Spent Alone, a movie that was truncated into a short film from a feature-length screenplay. It marked his first attempt at a linear narrative, and was, in his words, “very much a first film.”
Although he didn’t consider his first film a total success, The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts certainly saw talent in Yogi, a talent that could be developed, nurtured. Yogi, too, found collaborators there with whom he could identify: “I was very fortunate to find a small band of inspired filmmakers whose tastes aligned with mine.”
It was out of this collective interest in a movie about Hawaii, shared by Yogi and his colleagues, that the idea for Layover, on the Shore was born. “I was very lucky in that everyone who I wanted to work with came on board and lent their talent and voice to the project,” he says. Collaboration is the key element that separates filmmaking from other artistic mediums, and in that vein, Yogi remarks, “‘Layover, on the Shore’ is the most successful film I’ve ever been involved in.”
It’s fitting, perhaps, that Yogi’s thesis film, conceived in California, is about Hawaii. Layover, on the Shore, filmed both in LA and Honolulu, on dreamy film stock and ueber-realistic HD video, is, essentially, a love letter to Hawaii. It’s also Yogi’s attempt to reconcile two different, yet equally relevant Hawaiis: the real, actual Hawaii, where we live, and the imagined paradise with which the rest of the world is acquainted.
It’s precisely for this reason that Layover, on the Shore signals a new type of film, one that engages in the complexities of Hawaii. His film doesn’t seem to fit snugly into either of two categories to which most films about Hawaii belong: it’s not a film that uses Hawaii as a stunt double, so to speak, for other, more exotic locales (think: Jurassic Park and Tropic Thunder), and it certainly doesn’t reduce its characters to caricatures, or make broad generalizations about Hawaii and its people. Yogi seems to be making movies in heretofore uncharted territory, realistic films about us, here and now.
If there’s one thing that Yogi understands about Hawaii and the films it presents to the world, it’s this: “I think most important is realizing that our audience is not limited to the Hawaii community — a community that is wonderful and supportive, for sure,” he says, “but I think we all recognize that the culture and history of Hawaii is so international that its cinema can aim to reach far beyond its borders.”
It’s unclear whether or not Yogi’s film will be a bellwether in a New Hawaiian Cinema, but even those outside of Hawaii think there’s potential for our tiny, isolated island chain to develop a film movement. “My professors and classmates have expressed some definite excitement around Hawaii-centric filmmaking,” he says, “and so I feel there must be a demand out there. So there’s hope.”
Layover, on the Shore is screening at this year’s Honolulu International Film Festival, Sunday, October 18th, as part of “Shorts Program #4” at 6:45pm at Dole Cannery.