In the hula tradition, haumana is the Hawaiian term for students and a kumu is the master teacher. THE HAUMĀNA, Hawaiian-born artist Keo Woolford’s directorial debut, chronicles the challenges of an unlikely candidate appointed as the new kumu of a high school boys’ hula class.
Actor Tui Asau plays the lead role of Jonny Kealoha, an alcoholic Waikiki Polynesian entertainer. He is anointed as the group’s new instructor by its long-revered kumu, “Auntie Margaret”, played regally by living legendary Hawaiian singer and actress Marlene Sai. Keoloha’s boyish charm and impish smile instill little confidence in his haumana, and he finds that he has to earn their trust, which is challenging given that they think he knows little more than Polynesian lounge music and equally cheesy dance moves. Even more so, Kealoha doubts his own ability to honor and fulfill the role bestowed upon him. All the while, Kealoha feels both pressure and the wrath of Napua (played by actress Mary Paalani), who leads the girls’ group and has put in years of hard work and discipline to reach kumu status herself. She has little faith that Kealoha’s haumana will be ready in time for the all-important Royal Hula Festival that has always featured Auntie Margaret’s haumana.
THE HAUMĀNA features a wonderful ensemble cast comprised of local actors/hula dancers. A bonus treat for Asian American film fans is the lovely Kelly Hu, who counsels the down-and-out Keoloha as his bartender-tough love therapist. The musical score composed by George “Geebz” Del Barrio adds depth to the stunning visuals. Hawaiian music aficionados will be pleased with the soundtrack that includes the likes of Robert Cazimero, vocalist Lehua Kalima (of Na Leo), and guitarist Shawn Pimental. “In hula, we use all our senses to tell the story when we’re dancing,” says Auntie Margaret to her young protégé. In THE HAUMĀNA, Woolford seems to summon the beauty of Hawai’I — the lush forests of Oahu, the sound and flow of the ocean’s turquoise waves, and classic style Hawaiian mele (songs) and rhythmic chants — to stimulate the viewer’s senses and make THE HAUMĀNA a visual and melodic pleasure.
Synopsis written by: Vera DeVera