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Sundance Short Film shows audiences ‘This Is the Way We Rise’

Slam poet profile shifted gears

"This is the Way We Rise,“ a documentary by Ciara Lacy, is an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, a queer slam poet, activist and assistant professor of at the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii, to a protest at Mauna Kea, considered the most sacred of dormant volcanoes in the state by many native Hawaiians.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute/photo by Chapin Hall

Hawaiian-born Ciara Lacy’s work as a vérité documentary filmmaker who uses the camera to capture events as they happen proved beneficial with her new film “This Is the Way We Rise.”

Lacy originally planned the 13-minute short to be about the creative process of Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, a queer slam poet, activist and assistant professor of at the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii, on Oahu.

Lacy shifted gears a couple of days before filming.



“We had a conversation and planned to meet in Dr. Osorio’s classroom on a Thursday, and I was super excited,” she said. “She texted me on Tuesday and said, ‘I can’t make Thursday.’”

Osorio explained that she was heading to the big island of Hawaii to participate in the ongoing “Thirty Meter Telescope” protests at Mauna Kea, considered the most sacred of dormant volcanoes in the state by many native Hawaiians, according to Lacy.



The segmented mirror telescope in question, known as the TMT, would add to an area that houses more than 13 other telescopes. Native Hawaiians are protesting the construction, because they feel the telescope would further desecrate the the sacred area.

After considering her options, Lacy decided to fall back on her vérité experience and film this segment of Osorio’s life as it unfolded.

“I called my team and asked if they were OK flying from Oahu to Hawaii, and they were fine with it,” Lacy said. “I ended up going back and forth three or four times to film, because the film takes place over the course of many months.”

Lacy’s right hand was cinematographer Chapin Hall, who has worked on every film she has made.

“He has dedicated a lot of his life to helping advance stories by Hawaiians and Polynesians, so this felt right for us,” Lacy said.

In addition, Lacy connected with other filmmakers and news organizations during the protests, which turned the documentary into a collaboration of sorts.

“We cobbled together archival footage from other filmmakers from years past who were incredibly generous and licensed their footage to us to use,” she said. “They were like, ‘we’re here to help.’ There was something beautiful about people telling us we could use their footage in a way that isn’t common, which made this film possible.”

Lacy is also grateful to Osorio, who served as the gateway for viewers to discover the TMT protests.

“I’ve been tracking Dr. Osorio’s career as a slam poet, and was secretly waiting for the right moment to connect with her,” she said. “I met with her and was immediately excited, because she has ways with words that I don’t. There is something really powerful about somebody putting clarity on something you feel when you don’t have the words to describe it.”

Although Lacy had researched Osorio’s life and art, she discovered a different side of her during the filming at Mauna Kea.

“I was grateful for her vulnerability, and her willingness to be honest,” Lacy said. “A lot of times when we come to people who know the power of words, we expect answers. And the thing I’ve thought about over the past two years of this project is that sometimes it’s OK to not have the perfect answer.”

“This Is The Way We Rise,” which the online film and industry publication IndieWire listed as one of the “9 Best Short Films Playing This Year’s Sundance Film Festival,” is part of a larger PBS “American Masters” series called “In the Making,” Lacy said.

The series is a partnership with New York’s flagship public television station WNET, American Masters and Firelight Media, she said.

“The idea of ‘In the Making’ was to support BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) artists on the rise in their careers,” Lacy said. “Firelight Media is an organization dedicated to supporting filmmakers of color.”

The selection of the film in Sundance Film Festival’s Short Program only adds credibility to those organizations’ missions.

Lacy is the first native Hawaiian female to show a film at the festival, although Ty Sanga was the first Hawaiian to show at Sundance when his film “Stones,” a Hawaiian tale about a family deciding whether or not to preserve their native land and life or open up to new people and cultures, premiered in the 2011 festival.

“My first response to becoming the first female Hawaiian filmmaker in Sundance is gratitude to everyone who came before me to make this opportunity possible, which is a very Hawaiian way to think,” she said. “My second thought is I wish it would have been sooner, and why is it only now?”

Still, Lacy is thankful for the opportunity.

“Knowing this is a community film and how it was made and who we see on the screen, I feel there is something really right about that for me,” she said. “This was supposed to be a film about the artistic process. While that centers the film, it gives entry to activism in a way you wouldn’t expect.”


“This Is the Way We Rise,” a short film in the Sundance Film Festival, will begin virtual on-demand screenings for all festival account holders at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28.

Web: sundance.org


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