Stories To Perpetuate The Past

By Ruth Bolan
Wednesday - August 03, 2005
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Gus Cobb-Adams Jr., Shane Palusi Seggar, Evelyn
June Kim, Ruth Bolan, Leann Yeung and Annie
Moriyasu work together to support, advance
and develop Pacific Island media and talent

As a producer, I spent years in Hollywood working on projects I wasn’t particularly passionate about, so the opportunity to work for a non-profit company whose mission I strongly believe in is a tremendous source of inspiration. As executive director of Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), I can use the experience I gained in New York City and Hollywood to help bring the stories of the Pacific to the world. If we don’t start telling these stories now, we will spend the next generation correcting the misrepresentations of the past.

PIC’s mission is to “support, advance and develop Pacific Island media content and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history, culture and contemporary challenges.” We raise national visibility of the Pacific Islander experience by creating programming for PBS. PIC’s role is also to nurture and train the next generation of storytellers though talent development and audience development. The younger generation is extremely knowledgeable about media in all its forms, and one of our objectives is to ground these “techno wiz kids” in the cultural history of indigenous storytelling.

PIC assists emerging Pacific Islander filmmakers in several ways. One is through the creation of a scholarship fund. Over the past two years, PIC has awarded $42,500 in scholarships to promising college students majoring in media or communications. Another way is through production mentorship and digital media workshops. PIC will be conducting filmmaking workshops in Guam this month and in American Samoa in 2006. Through our Media Fund, Open Call and Short Film Initiative we provide financial support for filmmakers and create works for PBS broadcast.

PIC was founded 14 years ago, and my predecessor, Carlyn Tani, laid a strong foundation and left a rock-solid organization to build on. I received my BA in folklore and mythology from Harvard, worked as a theater producer on Broadway and then in the film and television industry. Most recently I was the executive director of ‘Ohi‘a Productions here in Honolulu. My job at PIC is the perfect combination of my production experience and my non-profit passion.

Our program director, Shane Palusi Seggar, came up through the ranks. PIC funded his first film, Le Afi Ua Mu: The Fire is Burning, a documentary that examines the reasons Samoan youth join gangs after immigrating to the United States. The experience of making this film refined his production skills and gave him a deeper understanding of his own cultural background. Shane went on to serve as an assistant to the director on Holo Mai Pele, which was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle and was the first time Hawaiian dance was featured on PBS’ Great Performances. He most recently served as producer on Dances of Life, a documentary about how the people of the Pacific express themselves through dance. As a working producer, Shane is able to share his firsthand knowledge and serve as a mentor to aspiring filmmakers.

PIC is a member of the National Minority Consortia, a leader in the field of independent filmmaking, whose mandate is to bring culturally diverse voices to PBS. PIC receives primary funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and has provided 37 hours of public television programming that enhances appreciation of Pacific Island cultures.

One of this year’s highlights was bringing actor Keisha Castle- Hughes to Hawaii last month to promote the PBS broadcast premiere of Whale Rider and launch a national community outreach campaign surrounding the film. The campaign, in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of the USA, includes a family viewers guide available online at the PIC website, This magical film, which received international acclaim, is eloquent proof of the universal appeal of Pacific Islander storytelling. As the mother of three children with Pacific Islander heritage, and I feel one of the most important things I can do is to teach them to be who they really are and not to conform to others’expectations. For me, that is the message of Whale Rider — what we become in life must begin with a dream within our own hearts. That is certainly true for me, and it has led me to Pacific Islanders in Communications.

Next week: Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, owner of Kahala Natural Health Center

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