Filmmaker to Feature Molokai High School

[Appeared in the June 4, 2009 issue of The Molokai Dispatch]

By Catherine Cluett

For filmmaker Jim Bryan, the creation of documentaries is a labor of love. And that’s exactly what drew him to make a film about Molokai High School to commemorate its 75th anniversary – for free.

Bryan is a screenwriter and producer for Hollywood, and that’s what pays the bills, he says. Before that, it was working as a journalist across the country for networks such as Fox and CNN, covering breaking stories from the Columbine tragedy to the Super Bowl.

“But there are still elements of the story that go beyond the six o’clock news,” says Bryan.

Filmmaker Jim Bryan sets up an interview with Molokai High School alumni Daniel Espaniola as part of a documentary to commemorate the school’s 75th anniversary.

That’s where making documentaries comes in – but for Bryan, “documentary” does not mean a historical chronology. He says instead it’s all about capturing the “local” on film – capturing the beauty of the moment that’s often lost when simply portraying a sequential series of events.

“It’s not a history project – it’s a historical perspective project,” explains Bryan. “What made life happen?”

About a year ago, members of the Molokai High School Alumni Association contacted Bryan as a fellow member of the Lions Club about an MHS DVD. Bryan had just made a film documenting the legacy of Hawaii Lions. To their surprise, Bryan volunteered to produce the Molokai film at no charge.

“Molokai has always fascinated me,” explains Bryan, who moved to Oahu 10 years ago.

“My wife and I first came to Molokai on New Year’s Eve in 2001,” he remembers. It was their first neighbor island visit.

“I think we went to bed at 10 p.m. because there was nothing else to do,” Bryan laughs. “I fell in love with Molokai.”

Making Bryan’s last documentary brought him literally inches from death. The mission was to deliver 5,000 eyeglasses from the Lions Club (500 of which came from Molokai) to villagers living in remote areas of Afghanistan. Bryan and two friends, travelling without U.S. military protection, stayed with locals and saw things “never seen by other Westerners,” according to Bryan.

“We had the Taliban chase us a few times, and narrowly missed a roadside bomb,” he recalls. Bryan describes the trip as personal, but also culturally revealing. Along the way, he shot 30 hours of footage that will document the experiences of a westerner in a war zone.

One of his most memorable experiences occurred in the mountains of Afghanistan, at an elevation of 13,000 feet. An emerald miner showed Bryan how he gets his emeralds – by blowing up a section of the mountain.

“He was so proud of his handful of raw emeralds,” remembers Bryan. That was all he had to show for 18 months of living in a tent at 13,000 feet.

“That one experience could be an entire movie,” Bryan says. “However it will be distributed, [this documentary on Afghanistan] will blow people’s minds.”

Bryan was back on Molokai two weeks ago for Molokai High School’s 43rd reunion. The 75th anniversary of the school is not until 2014, but the commemorative DVD will be released before then, and Bryan has already begun doing interviews with MHS alumni.

Bryan is enthusiastic when he talks about creating a documentary about Molokai’s high school and how it affected the lives of its graduates. Molokai may be small, but for Bryan, that’s the beauty of it.

“There is no small project or big project for me,” Bryan says. “It’s not about the money.”

Caption: Filmmaker Jim Bryan sets up an interview with Molokai High School alumni Daniel Espaniola as part of a documentary to commemorate the school’s 75th anniversary.

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About Catherine Cluett

I'm a freelance journalist, editor and photographer on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
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