DOCUMENTARY SHORT | UK | 15 MINUTES | English, Hawaiian

I am Kānaka

With a dark history, 5% speaking the native language and 10% living in poverty, Hawaii is in danger of losing its traditions forever. “I am Kanaka” gives a glimpse into the future with Kaina Makua’s non-profit program teaching Hawaiian language, sustainability and life skills to disadvantaged indigenous kids aged 5-20.


Directed by Genevieve Sulway

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Genevieve trained professionally as an actor with Hugh Jackman at WAAPA – ranked as one of the top 30 Drama Schools Drama in the world. She went on to appear in commercials, films and TV shows such as Home & Away over the next 10 years. A lateral move into the corporate world saw her living and working in China, Singapore, the U.S and Europe. She returned to the film industry in 2018 graduating with a Masters in Film & TV Producing.

Genevieve founded Salty Paradise Productions and is now based in London, UK. With an innate ability to speak to people, her emotionally compelling storytelling style is the hallmark of her films. She gains unfettered and intimate access to the stories that she captures on film. Her documentaries focus on the underdog experience, underrepresented communities and the power of community spirit overcoming adversity.

The first film she made at 50 was the Spanish documentary “When Worlds Collide”, followed by the Hawaiian film “I am Kanaka (2022) with a third documentary focused on the stories behind the UK bodybuilding industry “Mind Over Muscle – Becoming Big Granty” (2023) due to launch in the 2023 International Film Festival season.

She’s also been employed as a development producer at Chalkboard TV in London and pitched projects to Channel 5 and BBC.


Genevieve Sulway


Genevieve Sulway


Genevieve Sulway


Genevieve Sulway, Tina Imahara, Steven Robinson ASE

Director Statement

Eight million Americans visit Hawai’i every year and Tourists spend $43million every single day. From the outside, Hawai’i looks like paradise, a cinematographer’s dream. Stunning landscapes, vivid colours and friendly people have naturally found their way into countless Hollywood films.

However, Hawai’i has a dark history which has been repeated around the world (including my own home country of Australia). Hawai’i is a country overthrown, local language banned for four generations, and their Queen deposed and dying in exile. Today, only 5% speak the native Hawaiian language and 10% live in poverty.

“I am Kanaka” gives a glimpse into Hawai’i’s future with Kaina Makua, a local ex-teacher who became disillusioned with the conventional public education system, so he set up his own organization “Kumano I Ke Ala”. A non-profit program that tackles social injustice by passing on inter-generational knowledge to kids aged 5-20 from disadvantaged backgrounds: teaching Hawaiian language, culture, traditions and sustainability.

Where did I find inspiration for this film? I was on the island of Kauai to shoot another film that was unexpectedly cancelled. I just happened to be on a beach one day and noticed Kaina Makua out of the corner of my eye. He was teaching a group of kids how to use an outrigger canoe. There was something about him that drew me closer. I went over and asked to be introduced and that was it. He was immediately compelling, inspirational, funny, smart and above all compassionate about teaching these kids. He invited my film crew of 2 and I to come and see his team compete the next day in an outrigger race, which led to another day at his farm and this short documentary “I am Kanaka” was born.

This is my second film that I made on a shoestring budget of £7000. I came to filmmaking later in life at 50 so I’m very happy that this ‘accidental’ film came about. I was keen to weave the history and Kaina’s powerful story into a visually beautiful film with an emotional music score. I also intentionally created this film with a ‘family friendly’ rating as I wanted a broader audience to see a positive example of how one person can truly change the course of the future.

I hope you enjoy watching ‘I am Kanaka’.


Recipient of

Red Nation International Film Festival Nominee


March 1st – March 8th

Streaming Exclusively
Red Nation Television Network

Native Women in Film & Television In All Media is a program of Red Nation Celebration Institute

Native Women in Film and Television in All Media is located on the ancestral lands of native peoples.
© 1995 – 2023 All Rights Reserved | Made in Indian Country USA


Sign Up Today to receive Native Women in Film & Television News