One-woman performance shares stories from a life in filmmaking

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has been a storyteller her entire life. She moved to Honolulu from Oregon in 1975 when she was hired to be a Storyteller with the Artist-in-the-Schools program. She is best known in Hawaii as the Founding Director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, a position she held from 1981 to 1996.

Now she has a new one-woman show, When Strangers Meet, which has her telling stories based on her life experiences, specifically over 35 years in the film industry.

“My life has been greatly enriched by encountering people in diverse cultures and situations Many of the most memorable experiences have come about because of my involvement in film – either as a film festival director or filmmaker,” Hereniko said.

Rather than write a book or make a documentary, she decided to write and present a one-woman show. “I am basically a storyteller, and the format of a one-woman show allows me to use these skills,” she says. Her show is called “When Strangers Meet” as a nod to the theme of the Hawaii International Film Festival during the first 15 years she was Festival Director.

This is not her first one-woman show; that was Wild Wisdom in 2001, also about her life’s adventures. She performed it in Honolulu, California, and Mexico.

“I like the one-woman show format because I find it is a great vehicle for telling stories for adults. It is a throwback to the happy decade of my life when I was a professional storyteller. I also had the privilege of studying with Mark Travis, who teaches wondrous techniques to employ in writing and performing one-women shows. Knowing these techniques has made performing a one-woman show fun to do,” she said.

She says she actually, in a way, started working on this project over a decade ago. “I’ve been writing stories about my film adventures off and on for over a decade. It was mostly a matter of selecting those stories that fit together best for an entertaining and insightful show.”

“When I put all my shows on the floor and read over them, a theme began to emerge. The preparation was complicated by the fact my computer crashed in November, and I lost many of the stories. So I had to start over. Fortunately, I had hard copies of most of the stories I wanted to use in the show. The rewrite allowed me to sharpen the focus and stories to tell,” she said.

Those attending When Strangers Meet can expect her to tell a few inside stories about Sonny Bono, and what it was like working with him when he hired her to be the first Director of the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 1990. “Believe me, his style was in distinct contrast to the style of Victor Li, President of the East West Center where the Hawaii International Film Festival was born in 1981!” she teases.

Hereniko will also talk about what she learned from another experience: In 2000, she produced The Land Has Eyes, a feature film shot on the small isolated Polynesian island of Rotuma, which is politically part of Fiji.

This film was written and directed by her husband, Vilsoni Hereniko, and inspired by the first 17 years of his life growing up on the island, with its distinct culture and language. It premiered at Sundance and played in over 30 international film festivals.

“Audiences can expect to hear about the trials, tribulations, and joys I encountered during the filming on Rotuma, an island with no hotel, no restaurants, electricity only a few hours a day, and unreliable water supply. Most all cast in the film had never seen a movie, much less been in one,” she said.

When Strangers Meet is on Saturday, Jan. 30, at Doris Duke Theater, Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania Street, at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $20 general admission, $15 museum members, and are available online here.

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