As a deep voice booms through the seats of Iwilei's Dole Cannery Theaters, the narration glimpses a man's broad backside, waist deep in a ocean current, peering out to an endless horizon. Searching. Looking. Observing. Taking in any moments that could be his very last.
It's the beginning scene of director Ciara Lacey and producer Beau Bassett's film "Out of State," and its dialogue and roaring ocean current follows with a dramatic holler from the packed theater. This film, three years since its first action take, has taken on many lives' and controversies, cultures and communities, it's almost hard to not want to jump out of your seat and pull the characters into your chest and tell them that everything is going to be alright.
But everything is not alright. Not even close. Not for those behind bars and especially not for those who come out with little to nothing of support. It's a common question that lingers in the minds of those who have to face this simple task of life at hand yet it's one that separates those from living on the streets to living in a house with someone warm by their side: Where is home? Where do I go from here?
"We wanted to make this film as a way to showcase that these people are a part of our community," Bassett says, while addressing the audience members and draped in flower lei. "That's the million dollar question, right? What can we all do? Well, for start, you're seeing this film, which is help in itself. You're being informed and seeing them (David and Hale) as a part of your own community, is helping us all keep the conversation going."
According to the state of Hawai'i, more than 900% of inmates have increased within the prison cells since 1980. Therefore, in 1995, the state began to export prisoners to private and for-profit incarceration facilities located in the continental United States. Today, 1,300 prisoners are incarcerated specifically at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. A controversy, on many levels as it displaces many inmates from their support networks, increasing their trauma of imprisonment and causing for a difficult time transitioning back into the community. It's especially disheartening for Native Hawaiians as advocates have stressed the importance of their strong connection to family, the land and community.
"This story absolutely broke my heart and it made me fat," says Lacey with a chuckle, followed by laughter from the audience. After moving back home to Hawai'i from New York, she wanted to make a film about King Kamehameha, a homage originally to her former years at Kamehameha Schools. She then came across videos of men doing the haka while imprisoned in Arizona and was instantly intrigued. "I thought it was so interesting that these men were finding their culture, their heritage, while imprisoned within the desert of Arizona."
Soon she found herself obtaining the rights to enter the Arizona facility. Accompanied by her cousin, Bassett, and their cinematographer Chapin Hall, Lacey heard the sounds of why she made her way to the prison in the middle of the desert in the first place. The deep percussion of the ipu echoed throughout the courtyard. Every pound was accompanied by mainly Native Hawaiian men with muscular arms and legs filled with tattoos of their past and present. Their eyes, ferocious and focused, remained blink-less throughout their performance.
"I heard them chanting and I walked outside to watch them ... I couldn't help but cry," Lacey says. "It was there, behind those walls, that those men were creating new lives for themselves. I was extremely touched ... I only hope people can see this film and become empowered and inspired ..."
Without giving too much away, as I recommend every American citizen to watch this documentary, the film follows two inmates—David and Hale—who venture into two different paths after they are released from prison and sent back to their homes in Hawai'i.
"It's been a long three-year journey," David says as he looks down at the ground. "I've always ended up back in jail, but this time it's different. It's been a constant reminder for me that I cannot lose my connection to my family. I will always keep the pact that I will never go back to jail."
"We're not asking for you to open your house to us ... let us eat from your refrigerator," Hale laughs, followed by laughter from the audience. "No, we just want people to know what it's been like for us and for many prisoners who have to transition back to life here in Hawai'i. That it's not easy. And that to just treat others how you would want to be treated. To live in pono. We don't need sympathy, we just need encouragement. And we're grateful to have had that from you folks already. Mahalo."
For more information about the film, go to outofstatefilm.com