About Reel Wāhine of Hawaiʻi

Shirley Thompson (left) & Vera Zambonelli (right) co-producers of the Series

Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i is a film series that redresses gender inequity in the film industry by documenting the real-life stories of Hawai‘i women filmmakers through a female gaze. Filmed by all-women crews, these six short portraits reveal untold stories of local activists and artists who preserve Hawai‘i history and culture through film.


Produced, filmed, edited and directed by local women filmmakers, these six short films profile women who helped build the local independent film industry as well as current working filmmakers at the top of their field.


At a time when the film industry has come under fire for its lack of women-directed and written films, the Reel Wāhine series reveals a long history of Hawai‘i-based films made by women. Producers Shirley Thompson and Vera Zambonelli grew the idea for the series after years of working for gender parity and equity in the film industry. “Women filmmakers just aren’t getting the same opportunities as men, in terms of hiring, pay, access to financing and access to gatekeepers.” says series producer Shirley Thompson. “Film is a powerful medium that shapes our very society. If we exclude women from writing those stories, or deciding which stories get told, we are excluding women’s voices from shaping our society and our future.” 


In Hawaiʻi, we have a strong history of women behind the camera, including Native Hawaiians and women of color,” says series producer Vera Zambonelli, who is also Executive Director and founder of Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking. “Most of them had never told their stories before. And their accomplishments are great. We need to research, record, and disseminate this knowledge to counter the ways that academic and cultural histories regularly neglect women’s authorship and work in film and in the arts in general.”


Each short film features an accomplished Hawai‘i filmmaker recounting the challenges and triumphs of her life and career in just eight minutes. “People who document history shape society’s perception of what happened and why,” according to Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, founding director of Hawai‘i International Film Festival. “Reel Wāhine records women's unique role in shifting or changing the film culture of Hawai'i. In doing so, my hope is that Reel Wāhine not only encourages other women to be proactive in influencing Hawai'i society, but to also document how and why they did so.”


​The local talent highlighted in Reel Wāhine runs deep. ​The series received major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and is a Hawai‘i Women in Filmmaking production. Season III of Reel Wāhine of Hawai‘i is currently in pre-production. Thompson and Zambonelli are raising funds and seeking community allies and sponsors. They plan to begin filming six new films for the series in summer 2020.​