Did you know that a movie filmed on the Big Island will be released on August 6? I talked with Zoe Eisenberg (ZE), a Kalapana filmmaker who shared some background about her project, Stoke, with me. Here is the Q&A we had about the film and more.
LHS: Tell me about yourself and the others involved in the film. How did you decide to become a filmmaker?
ZE: Filmmaking is collaborative by nature, so Stoke is the result of the work of many talented individuals from actors to camera crew and more, but the core creative team is myself and my co-director Phillips Payson. I wrote the screenplay but we came up with the story together, work-shopped it together, produced the film together, and directed it together. Phillips also edited the film. We shared a lot of hats, which is the nature of micro-budget independent filmmaking. Phillips went to film school, whereas I studied creative writing and entered the film industry through screenwriting. I then taught myself how to produce. Stoke is my first role as a director.
LHS: What inspired this story? How did you come up with the idea to make this film?
ZE: Stoke is a comedy/drama about a privileged tourist who comes to Hawaii to visit the Kilauea volcano as an attempt to overcome a large personal loss. She hires two wannabe tour guides to take her there, and the story is about their journey across the island en route to the flow. The film addresses themes of grief, impermanence and reverence to nature–the last two are very prevalent where we live, in Puna.
We came up with the idea while shooting our prior film, a documentary about the 2014 flow, Aloha From Lavaland, where we were interviewing dozens of people about their relationship with the land and the lava. We interviewed people born here, people like myself who transplanted here, and tourists who feel called to visit. After processing hours of those interviews, we really wanted to create a narrative story that addressed lava tourism from both sides: why people come here, and what the people who are born here think about the people who travel from all over to see the volcano.
We wrote Stoke in 2016 and shot it in 2017, and then when the flow that happened in 2018, a lot of the film’s thematics were completely re-contextualized. That was a tumultuous time, but it was beautiful to watch the community come together, and we hope Stoke captures that essence as well. Ironically, the film was completed during spring of 2018, weeks before the 2018 eruption began. Some of the crew who worked on Stoke lost their homes that summer. Before releasing the film for festivals, we held a private screening for several community members who lost homes or were impacted by the flow to make sure its themes were respectful given the current state, and the community response was very positive. They appreciated seeing a part of their experience reflected—and many of the locations in Stoke are now covered under 40 feet of lava.
LHS: Did you find any roadblocks or challenges when starting this movie?
ZE: Independent filmmaking is like one long series of challenges, really, when vision can unfortunately trump budget. It took us a while to find funding for the film, always a large hurdle in independent filmmaking.
LHS: What was the most fun part about making this movie?
ZE: Personally, my favorite part of the filmmaking process is making something out of nothing. It starts with an idea for a story, then comes the challenge of creating a script, watching your characters come to life during casting, and then capturing it. I love it all.
LHS: What impact do you hope this film will have?
ZE: Even though Stoke has some heavier themes and takes a few dark turns, it’s pretty light overall, with local humor and some wild, more surreal twists–much like life in Puna itself. I hope people will have fun with it but also walk away thinking about some of its broader themes.
LHS: Can you share a funny anecdote about making of this film?
ZE: We were lucky enough to film Stoke during the 2017 “lava hose” down in Kalapana, so this is the backdrop for our characters when they reach the end of their journey. This of course was a complete coincidence as we set the shoot date six months in advance and just crossed our fingers that the ocean entry point would still be active. Not only was it still active but it was at its most spectacular, but still, every day there was risk of a change that our team would have to shift to meet. It was very interesting to make a film about reverence for nature and then having to work our shoot around the very element we were exploring.
LHS: Who should watch this film? Why?
ZE: I hope the film will appeal to people interested in the community that live near Kilauea, those who have ever been called to visit Kilauea themselves, those interested in Hawai’i, and those who like fun road films.
Here is the trailer to the film.
LHS: Do you have another project in mind? What’s next for you?
ZE: I am currently working on a delayed coming-of-age comedy set in Hilo. The project was accepted into the Creative Lab Hawai’i Producers Immersive and I hope to bring it into production by the end of 2020. Phillips and I are also the co-founders of the Made in Hawai’i Film Festival, which happens every summer at the Hilo Palace Theater and showcases films made in the state of Hawai’i. We’re very passionate about providing a platform for Hawai’i-made films, our own yes but also others.
Check out Stoke!
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