‘The flower is still on the tree’ - Ka Leo O Hawaii: Features

‘The flower is still on the tree’

ACM student’s documentary wins award in Shanghai

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Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 5:00 am

The Shanghai International Film Festival is one of the largest film festivals in Asia, attracting filmmakers from all around the world, including Iran and the United States. This year’s SIFF winner for “Best Documentary” is “Ka Pua,” directed by University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Academy for Creative Media student Erin Lau.


Lau, a Kahalu‘u native of Hawaiian-Chinese heritage, has been interested in film since elementary school. “I used to watch a lot of anime as a kid,” Lau said in an email interview. “[I] used to draw my own characters and put them together in slideshows [to] look like they were moving.

As a student at Kamehameha Schools, Lau took her first filmmaking class with the hope of becoming an actress, but later switched to directing. “I guess my love [of putting] videos together shined through in the end, and [I] knew from there on I wanted my career to be in filmmaking,” Lau said.

Upon arriving at UH Mānoa, she immediately looked towards the film program. “Films are very powerful,” Lau said. “They have the ability to twist our emotions [and] bring to life things that have long passed or never been imagined. And I think that’s why I just fell in love with it.


“Ka Pua” (Hawaiian for “the flower”) started as an assignment to create a short film from a Hawaiian proverb for ACM professor Lisette Flanary’s Indigenous Filmmaking class. Lau received a proverb which read: “To give a compliment to an elderly lady.”

“I instantly thought of my great-grandma,” Lau said. “She has a fiery personality and a big heart. The thought of telling her story, even a fraction of it, excited me.

Her documentary looks at the life of her grandmother, Elizabeth Lau, who is in her mid-90s. Her enduring persona is reflected through her sense of family, love and values, and she shares stories about her granddaughter and husband.

Lau realized she needed to see some things through her camera lens to really appreciate little details that are often overlooked in everyday life

She also noted that making the documentary was an emotional experience. While filming a scene at her grandma’s choir practice, Lau remembers that “she turned and smiled at me. There was something so special and appreciative about it.” 


Last month, Lau traveled to China with the Student Media Art Exchange between ACM and Shanghai University’s School of Film and TV. “Ka Pua” was entered in the Sino-U.S. Student Shorts Program at the 15th annual SIFF, held from June 15-24.

I was shaking and dizzy – it was unreal,” Lau said, on how it felt when “Ka Pua” won. “I wouldn’t let go of my award for the rest of the show. It just felt amazing.

Lau will start her junior year at UH Mānoa in the fall, and she is already hard at work on her next documentary, “Spirit of Kiho‘alu,” which is about a Hawaiian slack-key guitar. As she continues her art in the future, she noted persistence is a key to success. 

Just as my dad has always told me: If you have a passion, go for it,” she said. “I would never have made it where I am without my peers’, professors’ and family’s support. They taught me to never give up.”

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