By Wayne Harada
I have the utmost respect and admiration for Eddie Kamae, the veteran Island entertainer- turned-film-maker, who has shared his admiration and respect for his kupuna and peers in a number of ways over the decades.
In his latest triumph, Kamae’s important and revealing documentary, “Li‘a: The Legacy of a Hawaiian Man,” literally goes soaring up in the skies, when Hawaiian Airlines begins airing the hour-long award-winning portrait of one of Kamae’s heroes — Sam Li‘a, an old-time force and resource of Waipio, on the Big Island — with June and July screenings. The carrier’s in-flight programming on out-of-state flights will focus on Kamae and "Li'a."
The film, first released in 1988, marked Kamae’s debut as a director of projects with uncanny Hawaiian warmth and depth. With wife Myrna Kamae as a producer and James D. Houston as a writer, “Li‘a” chronicles Lia’s hitherto unknown journey as a true hero of Waipio, the go-to guy that only the privileged knew about, whose tale blended mystery and magic with roots entrenched in the riches of the valley in Waipio.
As a prelude to the documentary, cinematography Dennis Mahaffay has produced a sterling intro that will precede the film, originally a VHS entity now available on DVD (www.mountainapplcompany.com/eddiekamae), in the Hawaiian Air presentation.
With Jon de Mello, CEO of Mountain Apple Company, interviewing the formidable Kamae, whose film-making endeavors has matched, or surpassed, his musical contributions with his Sounds of Hawaii group “Li‘a” takes on new life and is clearly a testament to Kamae’s personable and trusting interviewing style, in accessing ancestral wonders like Li‘a, who — because of respect — would open up and reveal the astonishing lifestyle “careers” of their time.
“I heard about this Hawaiian composer, named Sam Li ‘a,” Kamae says. Pukui tells him where and how to find him, en route to Waipio, and off a road.
Kamae tells de Mello of the historic meeting with the poet: “I was guided by him, from that day on.”
Sam Li‘a Kalainaina (1881-1975) shared volumes of memories about people, places and elements of Waipio ... that emerged in his music, his poetry.
“Sam Li’a was never famous and he had no desire to be,” says Kamae. “He was a man of an older time and an older place; a man whose music and whose life was filled with the spirit of Hawaii ... a man of aloha.”
“Li’a” was a Best Documentary Film winner in the 1988 Hawaii International Film Festival.
Now, Kamae is proud that travelers hither and yon can learn about this gentle but powerful voice — whose spirit lives through his works. And the success of the Li’a project coupled with Kamae’s
dedication and mission to track down histories of his kupuna and his elders, has yielded
other documentaries with through Kamae’s work with the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation Series.