Winner of the Oscar-qualifying Cynthia Lickers-Sage Award for Best Short Work at this year’s ImagineNATIVE festival, Moloka’i Bound is the story of Kainoa (Holden Mandrial-Santos), a formerly incarcerated man who is trying to reconnect with his preteen son, Jonathan (Austin Tucker). Showing up out of the blue one day outside Jonathan’s school whilst Jonathan is waiting for a lift home, Kainoa is desperate to mend the broken bond between him and his son. In under nine minutes and shot all in one location, director Alika Maikau produces an astute and sober look at father and son relationships and contemporary Hawaiian identity.
Photo © Moloka’i Bound
As suggested by its title, Moloka’i Bound is set on Hawaii’s fifth most populated island, Moloka’i. Renowned for being one of the more rural islands of Hawaii and less frequented by bustling tourists, Maikau slices up a perspective of Hawaii less seen by the world; one that focuses on indigenous identity and disconnect. As Kainoa attempts to rekindle a connection with his son, it’s obvious that things are awkward between the pair. Kainoa fumbles to maintain conversation, jumping from small talk to small talk as Jonathan violently taps away at a game on his phone. ‘Is that angry birds?’ Kainoa asks ‘No, that game is so old’ a frustrated Jonathan snaps back. Maikau makes it painfully clear it’s been a while since the pair have last seen each other and their relationship has suffered as a result.
Rather than a looming power of guidance or an authoritative father figure, Kainoa comes across as more of an elder brother figure to Jonathan – joking around and playfully teasing his son rather than addressing the elephant in the room. Strolling in with no apologies and no reintroductions, Kainoa swings his way back into Jonathan’s life with chit chat and a bag of red vines. Although with good intentions and an earnest desire to be a responsible father, things are tricky for Kainoa as Jonathan is initially aloof and cautious of his father. Yet, there’s still a part of Jonathan that longs to impress his dad (or at least prove his independence to him) as he boasts about smoking cigarettes and his eight different girlfriends. Using first- and second-time actors and armed with naturalistic dialogue, Moloka’i Bound creates an authentic and realistic look at the push-and-pull dynamics of estranged fathers and their sons.
Photo © Moloka’i Bound
Displaying his characters speaking in Pidgin-English, Maikau starts to explore Hawaiian identity and especially what it means to belong to a family. Kainoa particularly seems to mourn not giving his son a name closer to his heritage – bitterly quipping how Jonathan is a ‘colonizer’s’ name. Although urgent to move past these regrets and reconcile with his son, Kainoa and Jonathan’s conversation is abruptly ended when Jonathan’s mother, Jessica (Danielle Zalopany) shows up. Furious at Kainoa for approaching Jonathan, she accuses Kainoa of being nothing but a ‘batu’ user – Hawaiian slang for methamphetamine. Gingerly mentioning Hawaii’s current problem with methamphetamine (35% of individuals jailed in Honolulu have the drug in their system – higher than any other city in the US) Maikau nods at the link between a lack of specialist methamphetamine addiction centres in Hawaii and its connection to incarceration and crime.
What looks like merely a short conversation between father and son is really a heartfelt piece touching on issues such as substance abuse, displacement, and identity. In such a short amount of time, Moloka’i Bound manages to craft an astute and authentic tale of a father desperately seeking redemption from a son he barely knows.
Written by Abi Aherne