It’s so refreshing to see an unhurried, affected person documentary, one which trusts its viewers to comply with alongside somewhat than counting on low-cost gimmicks to govern feelings. Anthony Banua-Simon’s meditative and private exploration, “Cane Fire,” accomplishes this more and more uncommon feat with a narrative that, on its face, seems all too acquainted. It’s a story as outdated as America: vicious colonialism, grasping capitalism, rampant racism, and the erasure of native histories for exploitative ends.
“Cane Fire” focuses on Hawaii’s fourth largest island, Kaua’i, with the chronicling of director Lois Weber’s arrival on the eye-pleasing archipelago in 1934 to the movie “White Heat” (her first talkie and final directed film, now thought-about misplaced). Judging by the script, the movie has subversive undertones: In its climactic scene, the heroine burns a whole sugar cane plantation (a scene censors objected to for concern it might encourage revolts among the many native staff).
Banua-Simon’s great-grandfather (the director is of Filipino descent) appeared within the movie as an additional, however, his footage is lengthy gone. At first, “Cane Fire” appears to be like prefer it’ll be a private quest by Banua-Simon to find this artifact. The magic of this documentary, nonetheless, resides in it not taking what may simply slip right into a navel-gazing search. As a substitute, the documentary’s substance springs from its capacity to zoom out and join a wide selection of dots for clear-eyed, but deeply empathetic conclusions.
Banua-Simon understands the facility behind a picture, and the methods a digicam’s lens can form narratives. For a time, Hawaii’s main exports have been sugar cane and flick: Hollywood used the state’s paradisal environment because the background for works like “Diamond Head,” “Blue Hawaii,” “None But the Brave” and so forth, whereas using residents as extras. This connection between moviemaking and colonialism initially feels tenuous, at greatest. However such is the intelligence of “Cane Fire,” whose level is made with each outdated Hollywood clip of native extras utilized by white creatives to strengthen stereotypes about Asians and Indigenous folks as both dim-witted, troublesome brutes or unique beauties awaiting white saviors.
“Cane Fire” neatly makes different connections; it considers how a movie like “Big Jim McLain,” starring John Wayne, propped up unethical companies by associating unions with communism, and within the course of servicing the ruling white entities in Hawaii. Banua-Simon additional charts how these white oligarchs, referred to as the Large 5, a quintet of households who managed all the archipelagos’ plantations, wielded the photographs distributed by Hollywood, the relentlessness of an American authority consumed by colonialism, and the agriculture and tourism industries. They turned Hawaii from an Edenic house right into a dreamlike vacation spot match for everybody apart from the native folks already dwelling there.
Banua-Simon tracks these relationships by interviews with members of the family and union heads who describe an ever-increasing power that’s blunted illustration and reasonably priced housing into solely being accessible to the tremendous wealthy. He additionally highlights the activist teams making an attempt to reclaim sacred and historic lands from conniving enterprise pursuits (one spot, particularly, the positioning of the deserted Coco Palms resort the place “Fantasy Island” was filmed, is culturally vital but stays within the arms of builders). The doable paths ahead for Native Hawaiians usually are not clear and straightforward, and Banua-Simon by no means assumes they’re, particularly as he presents the 2 sides, each nervous about their futures, who’re splintered by the tourism financial system and long-held traditions.
Even with its evocative cinematography of lush vistas and the playful, humorous modifying, typically ready for the thematic items to fall into place may cause “Cane Fire” to really feel dry. However the harrowing tales right here of exploitation nonetheless boil one’s blood, and the abundance of Hollywood imagery that erases native of us in lieu of white males ratchets up frustrations with every successive clip. Whereas Banua-Simon by no means finds the footage of his great-grandfather or Weber’s film, he reveals a fact and a trigger that’s a much more becoming strategy to keep in mind his heritage and the folks he calls his family and friends.