Film gives voice to the mauna

The short documentary Standing Above the Clouds screened at WCC as part of Women’s History Month.
Courtesy of Breaktide Productions

by Haley Roback, Special to Ka ‘Ohana

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the short documentary Standing Above the Clouds was screened on campus for free on March 10.

The film tells the story of three mother-daughter activists protecting Mauna Kea from the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The film was produced by Breaktide Productions, a San Francisco-based production company owned and operated solely by women of color that focuses on communities that don’t usually have a voice in media.

“Beyond representation, it’s about storytelling,” said cinematographer Reea Puri about the company. “Creating stories that are equitable, creating stories that are conscious to the communities that we are interacting with through this work.”

 In August 2019, Puri along with the film’s director Jalena Keane-Lee and producer Amber Espinosa-Jones began traveling to the Big Island to document the movement on Mauna Kea and especially the role female activists play among the Ku Kia’i Mauna or protectors of the land.

The film also shows the cultural and historical context behind Native Hawaiian protests against the telescope. For instance, according to the film’s website, the summit of Mauna Kea is known as wao akua or the realm of the Hawaiian gods and goddesses. The peak is also a “genesis point” for Native Hawaiians, the place where the Earth meets the heavens.

 “The Mauna is where our training begins,” says Pua Case, one of the featured mothers in the film. “If we stand in a sacred way, in Kapu Aloha, in dignity, honor, self respect and discipline, then we will know how not to stand for just all of Hawai’i, but we will know how to stand when we have to stand with others.”

After watching the film, the audience, comprised mainly of WCC students, was able to ask questions, offer feedback or communicate their emotional reactions. One student reflected that the film gave her a sense of “adornment.”

“I felt the bond between the mother and daughter really aligns with the mother role of the Mauna on the land,” she said.

The short film also screened at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival last fall and has been receiving uplifting, supportive feedback from the people of Hawai‘i, especially the Ku Kia’i Mauna who are portrayed. The filmmakers plan to extend the short into a feature-length film.

 “We’re still working on fundraising for further production, basically in the ‘in-between’ stage of being just a short film transitioning to a cinematic movie,” said assistant cameraperson Pumehana Cabral who was at the screening.

For more information, go to the film’s website at