Making the Spalding House a Filmmaker’s Hub—Interview with HIFF founder, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

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Jeannette Paulson Hereniko is someone who never shrinks from a challenge. 

A former writer and producer for Hawaii Educational Television, she is best known as founder of the Hawaii International Film Festival and was the festival’s director from 1981 to 1996. Currently she’s president of the nonprofit Hawaiʻi Film Foundation of Nuʻumealani whose purpose is to purchase the Spalding House, the former Contemporary Museum, which has been on the block since 2019. It’s her goal to turn the $15 million, 3.4-acre property into a hub for Hawaiʻi filmmakers and film organizations.

I had a chance to sit down with her recently to discuss this ambitious project.

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Rob: Why the Spalding House?  There’s plenty of commercial space in local warehouses or other venues? How can you justify the expense?

An aerial view of the Spalding property, which is 3.4 acres in size.

Jeannette:  The Spalding House has historical and cultural community memories of meaningful ohana gatherings, childhood explorations, artistic and architectural milestones. It is a place where dreams and visions were created and realized – such as when the Spalding House became the Contemporary Museum The history, charm and beauty of the Spalding House nestled in the hills overlooking Honolulu offers visitors a sense of awe and wonder. For Hawai’i storytellers and filmmakers, the unseen but deeply felt connections to our shared history, environment, identity and community stories found at Spalding House is inspiring and unleashes creativity. This rare sense of place that seems to call out for continued community historic and creative gatherings is not found in local warehouses or commercial spaces.

Rob: What’s your vision of who would use it, and how exactly would it be used?

Jeannette:  Hawai’i Film Foundation at Nu’umealani, a non-profit organization, has been formed to oversee activities taking place at the Spalding House that will strengthen Hawai’i’s growing film industry and empower Hawai’i Storytellers whose stories have been underrepresented in mainstream media.

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko was the Producer of “The Land has Eyes”, a feature filmed on the Fijian Island of Rotuma. Above, Jim Davenport plays the district officer and Sapata Taito is Viki, the film’s protagonist.

We will be providing space for non-profit film organizations with meeting rooms, desks, storage space, screening rooms, reception areas, and housing for their visiting filmmakers. By sharing spaces and resources the participating nonprofit organizations can more efficiently imagine, plan, coordinate and present public programs throughout the State that nurtures an appreciative film culture and an economically strong film industry that supports and empowers Hawai’i filmmakers.

We will work with Hawai’i storytellers to turn their stories into films that will excite and inspire global audiences. We will provide a dynamic collective space and resources for local filmmakers from every zip code to meet with mentors, film industry leaders, potential sponsors and peers. The purpose is to create the synergy needed to take Hawai’i stories all the way through the creative process until the film is distributed and seen globally. We want to help our filmmakers achieve their goals so well that Hawai’i filmmakers do not have to move to the Continent to realize their dream.

We are particularly excited to encourage the creation of movies and creative media written by people living in Hawai’i who are at home with Asia, the Pacific and indigenous values honoring environment, spirituality, and community.

Milton Cades Pavilion in Spalding House gardens

Rob: How exactly would the House be utilized?

Jeannette: Spaces at Spalding House have been identified that can provide these resources to make the vision reality:

  • Filmmaker in residence apartments where internationally known filmmakers can stay and work on their projects while mentoring Hawai’i filmmakers; giving master classes for university students; talking to high school students; and showing their films to the public with after-film discussions in public venues such as Honolulu Museum of Art, commercial theatres, public libraries, etc.
  • Screening rooms for Filmmakers, such as University of Hawai’i Manoa’s Academy of Creative Media students, to show their colleagues, juries, potential sponsors, media, film programmers and distributors.
  • Seminar rooms for master classes featuring visiting filmmakers, film industry leaders, film teachers
  • Space for auditions, readings of scripts, and meetings between cast and crew members
  • Meeting space for nonprofit film organizations to hold board meetings, meetings with staff and volunteers
Balanced rocks, Spalding House gardens
  • Storage space for nonprofit film organizations supplies and equipment
  • Space for an exhibit on the history of filmmaking in Hawai’i with guest lectures. Nearby is an area for include screening historical Hawai’i movies, tv shows as well as contemporary films made by Hawai’i filmmakers with discussions afterward.
  • Desks and space for use by ten nonprofit film organizations who have expressed interest to date
  • Cafe run by restaurant business mentors who work with students studying to catering meals for movie crews. Patrons of the cafe include mentors meeting with emerging filmmakers; nonprofit film organization executives meeting with donors and volunteers,
  • Space for filmmakers to learn about tax benefits; film permits, cultural protocols
  • Reception areas for use to honor filmmakers, donors, volunteers of nonprofit organizations
  • A library of past film festival programs, digital and printed film books, journals, film posters – including resources for film producers interested in making a film in Hawai’i such as a library of local film talent, cultural protocols for making films in Hawai’i, film permits needed, library of locations, tax benefits, etc.
  • Garden walks as creative space for filmmakers, film programmers, and nonprofit film organizers

View of Diamond Head from great lawn of Spalding House

Rob: What educational opportunities would you foresee happening for up and coming local film makers, writers and the like

Jeannette:  There will be master classes with the filmmakers in residence at Spalding House presented for film students and Hawai’i filmmakers, storytellers, media. The filmmakers in residence will also be visiting school classrooms and public events organized by participating nonprofit film organizations in public venues throughout Hawai’i.

Screening rooms will allow opportunities for after film discussions with filmmakers as well as a chance for student filmmakers to see their completed film on the Big Screen.

Rob: Where would the funds come from to purchase the place?

Jeannette: There will continue to be donations from individuals who want to see the vision of Spalding House become a Center for Hawai’i filmmakers and nonprofit film organizations.

There will continue to be donations from individuals who want to save the Spalding House for the creative arts benefiting the public rather than it purchased as a private home.

There could be future donations from people who: needs a tax benefit – wants to do something that benefits Hawai’i’s people -wants to encourage an alternative economic driver of Hawai’i’s economy other than tourism and the military – wants to honor the memory of a person who was passionate about movies or storytelling.

Monkeypod tree on the great lawn of Spalding House

Rob: So, let’s assume you can raise the money. How would you finance the cost of maintaining such a place?

Jeannette:  While there are some organizations and foundations who cannot give to buying property, they can use funds for operating and programmatic expenses. Many have indicated that once the Spalding House is purchased and becomes a place for Hawai’i Film Foundation at Nu’umealani, they plan to donate annually toward the operating costs. Also the nonprofit film organizations using the space will be contributing toward the monthly operating costs.

Rob: Do you think you can get the financial assistance of some of the local studios who have had success in Hawaii?

It is certainly possible.

Rob: Who is helping you with this endeavor?

Jeannette: The original Founders of “Save the Spalding House for the Arts” who have been active since the beginning and remain active:

Sarah Bakewell and Jeanie Schmaltz – Realtors Hawaii Life

Marion Philpotts-Miller, Partner, Philpotts Interiors

Shaunagh Guinness Robbins, Community Leader

Actor/Producer Daniel Dae Kim has been an active supporter the effort to establish the Spalding House as a film hub.

Board members of Hawai’i Film Foundation at Nu’umealani are very active in this endeavor: Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, President

Jason Cutinella, Vice President/Treasurer

Heather Haunani Giugni, Secretary

Jason Suapaia, Director

In addition to the individuals named as our Community Partners and the Board members of

Hawai’i Film Foundation at Nu’umealani, other individuals who have been particularly helpful to this endeavor who the public might be aware of include:

Former Governor Neil Abercrombie

Actor/Producer Daniel Dae Kim

Actor/Filmmaker Henry Ian Cussick

Rob: Thank you!

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