True Grit

Image by Jonas Yun

One of the more prominent showcases of Hawai‘i’s independent film scene, Showdown in Chinatown is a merciless crucible of chaos and redemption. With highly unusual guidelines, it has been helping to introduce and promote high-quality independent films for nearly a decade. Predicated on improvisation, creativity, and sheer endurance, it is the cinematic equivalent of the Ironman triathlon.

Founded in 2005 by Torry Tukuafu, Showdown was initially conceived in the minds of Lost staffers and cameramen as a challenge between industrious young film industry workers, held in Honolulu’s Chinatown. The premise was simple: The best seven-minute film, created in just 24 hours, wins a round of drinks. It has undergone numerous changes over the last 10 years, becoming a bi-monthly event pivoting around 24-hour to 72-hour challenges with elements like themes or randomly chosen objects that must be incorporated into the films. What began as a playful professional rivalry between industry-proven veterans has since transformed into a chaotic marathon of writing, filming, and editing for fledgling film auteurs, aimed at discovering what is possible under tight deadlines and unexpected obstacles.

While this scenario would seem to lend itself to disjointed and poorly developed films, Showdown has proved otherwise. By creating an atmosphere of mentorship, with industry professionals like Evangeline Lilly, Daniel Dae Kim, and director Jack Bender providing insight during the judging of the films, Showdown has become a vibrant brain trust in which failure is met with encouragement instead of jeers and popcorn tossing. Behind it all is Cyrina Hadad, who became a co-owner and the face of Showdown in 2008, starting out as a friendly fan in 2005. While Tukuafu remains involved, Hadad has become the most visible and impassioned voice.

Heading both production and marketing direction, Hadad espouses the virtues of hacker subculture in everything she does. With a giddy laugh, she waxes altruistic on the evolution of technology in film. And she is an absolute tornado of optimism when it comes to the impact the Showdown has had on competitors. “Showdown allows people to express themselves creatively in a competitive outlet,” she says. “Everyone grows in this setting.”

The unorthodox format of Showdown is unique in that it does not follow your typical shoot-and-submit film festival timelines. This is not Sundance. There are no slopes to be raced down between macchiatos and microbreweries. Designed to test the creative capabilities of its competitors, the guidelines are set to stretch each of the filmmakers in a myriad of ways.

And it has paid off. Hadad recalls one filmmaker, Robert Campbell, whose first films comprised of crude jokes and other such boyishly silly themes. But as time progressed, Campbell’s films evolved, and he even went on to produce the feature film Ecila, which was shown and lauded at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival.

With the film challenge approaching its tenth anniversary, Hadad has been working closely with Showdown’s interactive director, Aisis Chen, to incorporate innovative technology. “We are now moving forward into combining visual storytelling with trans-media technologies,” says Hadad. “We are joining forces with hackers, makers, and students in Hawai‘i.” The future, she notes, will be in holographic projections, gestural interactivity, and other integrated technological advances that enhance live performances. In an effort to highlight these changes, Hadad organized a high-tech extravaganza for the 2014 Showdown in Chinatown Championships, which took place in November. Alongside the films, an interactive visual display delivered a 3D experience by combining elements of water and various light sources. While these technologies are rarely utilized in actual cinema, Hadad’s believes that they are the future of film and media, and that the hybridization of the audience experience is imminent. This means a more immersive experience, in which a viewer sees a film as well as experiences it with other senses. Think Disney California Adventure Park’s Soarin’ Over California simulator ride.

Through its decade of evolution, Showdown has remained rooted in challenging and inspiring young filmmakers. Utilizing the unconventional concept of chaos as a catalyst to foster brilliance, Showdown proves that jaw-dropping results are not only common in this setting, but that amidst bloodshot eyes and sleepless editing sessions, madness creates masterpieces.

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