Saturday, October 4, 2008

The KoAloha Ukulele Story - a short film by Gary San Angel

World Premiere Screening of

The KoAloha Ukulele Story

At the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

When: October 10th at 3:30PM
Where: Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

For more on the Philadelphia screening:

For more about the film and future screenings:


About the Film:

The KoAloha Ukulele Story is an animated documentary film based on the true to life events of Alvin Okami, the famous Oahu based entertainer turned inventor, who finds his true calling as one of the most innovative ukulele makers in Hawaii today. Alvin “Talk’s Story” sharing his unbelievable journey from his days using Plexiglas to the fateful day when KoAloha Ukulele first began.
Director’s Notes:
The KoAloha Ukulele Story is an animated short film based on my oral interview with Alvin Okami in September of 2007 almost a year ago where I captured a few of his life stories and music on film. Initially, I was going to do a straight documentary film based on his stories but when I got back to Philadelphia I played my camera footage and all I could see was static. I was so disappointed. Fortunately, I had a backup sound recorder which recorded all his stories in their entirety but it was just the sound no picture. I was pretty upset about the camera footage being lost but would listen to Alvin’s stories over and over in my headphones.
There was one story that just popped out at me and made me say, “Wow! That’s amazing!” and that was the story of how KoAloha first began. Hearing the story in my head I could see pictures. To me the story was like a real movie. I thought, “I wonder if I could animate the story? Have Alvin tell the story but show pictures as he’s talking almost like a children’s book. I could create magic from pictures.” But reality set in, I knew it couldn’t work because I could not really draw and I would need an animator to help me. So I gave up. And I thought, “Oh, well. I’ll just have to go back to Hawaii and reshoot everything.”
About a month later, I ran into Rocky Kev, one of my former students from the Asian Arts Initiative where I work. He’s a talented animator and I’ve always admired his drawings. I mentioned to him in passing, “Hey, Rocky if I play you this story will you listen to it? I lost my camera footage and have no way to tell this amazing story about this ukulele maker in Hawaii. Maybe, you can help me animate it.” Rocky is a Cambodian American youth who grew up in South Philadelphia and has never been to Hawaii or even knew what a ukulele was but when he heard the story for the first time he immediately called me the next day and said, “I loved it! I want to animate Alvin’s story.”
So for almost a year we have been working together to create the visual pictures for telling Alvin’s story of how KoAloha Ukulele first began. Me as an editor, director, and Rocky as an animator, we worked many countless hours to research and to imagine what happened on those eventful days leading up to when KoAloha started. Because Rocky and I are from the U.S. mainland we knew we could never be completely authentic to local Hawaii-isms or to every single detail that actually happened in the story. We knew if we created an animation for authenticity sake we would fail miserably. So we knew we had to use the strength of the power of our creativity and imagination to create simple, powerful, and entertaining images that would help bring the KoAloha story to life in our own way.
In many ways, we’ve created our own animated storybook version of Alvin’s story. And now that we are nearing the finish line and wrapping up the film I can proudly say this brings to life the KoAloha story in a way that would never have been captured on film. For me, this journey to create the film has been as amazing as the story itself and I feel absolutely honored and blessed to have the privilege to bring this story to the screen. I feel very fortunate to share in the magic of the story of KoAloha and to be able to bring this film to ukulele lovers all around the world or simply anyone who has ever felt that some things happen for a very special reason. This story is all that and more.
Gary San Angel

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