Kumu ʻAlika
Hawaiian TV news fulfilling mission
by Kumu ʻAlika - Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 09:58 AM
 

Amy Kalili doesn't use the teleprompter. She doesn't need it. She works from a script, but she knows what she's going to say. She usually needs only one take.

One camera glides down on a boom. A second camera dollies across tracks in front of the newsdesk. It's high production value for a local TV newscast. The crew is focused but relaxed, calling each other by nicknames, sharing a box of manapua, joking about having to pick flowers for the anchor's hair from the bush by the fire station.

There was no big struggle, no upward battle to launch Hawai'i's first television newscast entirely in the Hawaiian language. Forces came together and it happened.

"We got the call and we said 'hiki no, yes we can," said Lilinoe Andrews, communications director of 'Aha Punana Leo, which is producing the show in partnership with Paliku Documentary Films and KGMB9 TV.

The segment started as part of a week-long ramp-up to the 2008 Kamehameha Schools Song Contest on KGMB9 newscasts. 'Aha Punana Leo was asked to do five news segments and Kalili, the organization's executive director, was everyone's pick as anchor. Kalili agreed, mostly because it seemed a good way to further the organization's mission of spreading the Hawaiian language. She has a law degree, an MBA, a degree in Hawaiian studies and is fluent in Hawaiian but never had any designs on a career in journalism, much less TV news. She just happens to be a natural.

"A show like this won't work unless you have someone who is believable on the set," producer Na'alehu Anthony said. "Amy has it. She has presence."

Those first Hawaiian-language segments drew such a positive response that Kalili was invited to do a regular spot on the KGMB morning show. Again, it was "hiki no," but they didn't want to do a "Hawaiian word of the day" or a translation of somebody else's story. They wanted to produce their own news stories, chose their own topics and conduct interviews in Hawaiian.

Two weeks into this new endeavor, Andrews and Kalili met Anthony, former news producer and owner of Paliku Documentary Films, at an indigenous media conference in Aotearoa. They sat down and talked about this great opportunity KGMB9 was providing. Anthony came up with a plan. He said they needed to do more than one story a day. They needed to do their own newscast entirely in Hawaiian.

"The infrastructure you need to do two minutes a day is too big to do just two minutes a day," Anthony said. "You have to make the investment worth it with a half-hour show."

So they created a news gathering operation with edit bays in 'Aha Punana Leo's Makiki office. They make story budgets and send out crews to do interviews.

The show, " 'Aha'i 'Olelo Ola (Messenger of a Living Language)," competes with everyone else for advertising dollars. "It has not been a hard sell," Andrews said.

"We report on events and stories from a cultural Hawaiian perspective but stay away from taking any particular side on an issue," their official press release says.

"Do I have to noho pa'a while you're jibbing away?" Kalili asked. The show is entirely in Hawaiian with English subtitles. When a person they've interviewed speaks in English, they use Hawaiian subtitles, and much of the off-camera banter is in Hawaiian, with some English and a heavy dose of tech-speak. Some of the stories they've covered have required calls to 'Aha Punana Leo's lexicon committee to ask for creation of new Hawaiian words. For example, they asked for a word for "groundwater" as opposed to "surface water" and were given the term "wai lalo honua." For a piece on mixed martial arts, the sport was given the name "hakak? huihui."

The morning show segments continue along with the new weekly show, which launched in April, and all involved have their "other" jobs as well. But no one seems weary. They're too passionate about what they're doing. It's bigger than all of them.

"It's part of our mission to re-establish what being Hawaiian is," Kalili said. "Hawaiian is a language of capacity, you can do a lot of things with it."

na Lee Cataluna