SUNDANCE ’22 – Native Hawaiian-Made ‘Every Day in Kaimukī’ Explores the Mixed Emotions of Leaving Home


Every Day in Kaimuki has made some important festival history. Director Alika Tengan is the first-ever Native Hawaiian director to premiere a feature-length project at Sundance, and the film was the first Native Hawaiian feature-length film to play at the festival. Together, these facts illustrate the importance of Every Day in Kaimuki for representation on the festival circuit.

In the film, a 20-something man named Naz (Naz Kawakami), a radio DJ at a community station, and his girlfriend Sloane (Rina White), an artist, prepare to move from the neighbourhood of Kaimuki in Honolulu, Hawaii to New York City. Naz shares a name with the actor who plays him, and the docufiction film is based on Kawakami’s actual experiences preparing to move from Hawaii to New York. The film fits the description of the mumblecore genre with a minimal focus on action and most of the weight falling on dialogue and the mundane tasks required of any major move. And it’s definitely a major move for Naz, including a 12-hour flight from Honolulu to NYC that his beloved cat will have to weather out in a small carrier. 

At first, the film’s stakes aren’t clear. We learn Sloane has been accepted into an art program, but her feelings are unclear on whether she wants to go. We don’t get a strong sense that Naz cares about the move even as he diligently goes through the motions to leave. Although both their mixed emotions do help set up the second and third acts, they make the film’s start feel bland and lacking in energy.

As the film winds on, however, tensions rise. Naz’s ennui begins to alienate him from everyone he cares about, and his insistence on moving becomes the center of his identity. He fears that if he doesn’t leave, he never will, and he’ll never have the interesting life he longs for. Naz’s casual, acerbic personality can be hard to connect with at the beginning, but as we see more and more of his frustrations, it’s easier to understand his dilemma and why he’s dealing with it the way he is. It’s also important to note that although the movie doesn’t address it at length, Naz has not only lived in Hawaii his whole life, but he is a Native Hawaiian who feels that he is white-passing, both an insider and an outsider. This identity creates a complex position for him on the island and affects his relationship to the NYC move as well.

The warm, dark cinematography keeps the film from feeling too stuck in the day-to-day. Soft sunlight through doorways, dim rows of albums at the radio station, and the makeshift skatepark lit with street lamps all serve to make Kaimuki a dream-like space Naz seems to want to wake up from. Before making his final decision on whether to leave, he takes a long skateboard ride down the hazy streets of the neighbourhood. It’s a sensuous and moving sequence for its place in the film and contributes to the visual weight of the final act.

The film also provides insight into “pandemic cinema,” or what some movies that were shot during or take place in the COVID era could look like. Kaimuki is undeniably a film made in late 2020-early 2021 when mask mandates were still widespread and adhered to. Rather than making the film feel dated, it adds to its groundedness and allows it to be a slice-of-life snapshot of an exact time and place in the characters’ lives.

Every Day in Kaimuki may not have the most compelling stakes, but I found myself invested in Naz’s decision-making by the end. The visuals blend with the story to give us a glimpse into one man’s conundrum of whether to leave his home for new experiences or remain in the cozy, rooted places the film shows us.

Every Day In Kaimuki had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival

by Bishop V. Navarro

Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter 

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