In 2018, Heather Haunani Giugni was honored with the prestigious ʻŌʻō Award, bestowed by the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce for her pioneering life’s work and a career dedicated to the production and preservation of moving images; specifically, those that depict “the history and culture of Native Hawaiians and the people of Hawaiʻi.”
A documentary producer and filmmaker, Giugni is also the co-founder of ‘Ulu‘ulu: The Henry Ku‘ualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive, named in honor of her father, the first Hawaiian to serve as Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate. ‘Ulu‘Ulu is a project of the Academy for Creative Media (ACM) at the University of Hawai‘i West O‘ahu.
“I describe myself as a Creative although my official title at ‘Uluʻulu is Collection Specialist/Producer,” says Giugni, who became an independent video storyteller in the 1980s. She was driven by her passion to tell stories about her Hawaiian community.
“Back in those early days my partner and I created the first woman-owned video production business in Hawai’i — our focus was Native documentation,” said Giugni. That initial venture has evolved into Giugni’s Rock Salt Media, which produces the annual Kamehameha Schools Song Contest and Family Ingredients, which airs on PBS nationally.”
Giugni humbly credits her business success and the successful evolution of ʻUluʻulu — now the state’s official moving image archive — to a few seemingly simple things.
“I just followed the footsteps of those that came before me with the idea of creating a safe space for our moving image history. I found the seed money, partnered with the University of Hawaiʻi ACM Systems Director and Founder Chris Lee, sought community support and watched it become reality,” says Giugni, who is grateful for the outcome.
“I recognize that success is about partnerships. About relationships. Everything I have succeeded in, I have had the support of others,” said Giugni, who also gave a nod to fortuitous timing. “The field I chose blew up (in a good way) in the early 2000s when media and computers merged — when websites and video streaming and social media changed the world.”
It also changed how people work and has evolved into the “gig economy” of today. For Giugni, though, working independently has always been her “happy place”. She launched her enterprise at a time when she says “you never left your 9 to 5 to freelance. It wasn’t an acceptable option.”
Her initial leap of faith has continued to pay off, both for herself and her community. “I am thrilled ‘Uluʻulu exists — for all of us,” says Giugni.
As for the relationships she has nurtured over three decades of “gigging”, Giugni said, “They have been my foundation – my connections – my support – my many different short-term bosses.”
Giugni’s advice for success? “The way to break through the crowd is to 1) love what you do 2) be good at it and 3) BELIEVE,” she told us.
Giugni continues to draw inspiration from the work of others and says the South by Southwest® (SXSW) conference is on her radar. “I attend conferences that are related to the moving image archive and I love film festivals and wish I could just spend my time going from one festival to another,” she says.
“I think one of the secrets to ‘Uluʻulu’s success is that staff has the opportunity to attend a conference once a year. I believe in conferences. They are great resources that can be inspirational,” says Giugni, who herself is a devotee of the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference.
Finally, she offered this, “Throughout my career I have always chosen projects that fill a need. My subject matter was purposeful — like getting more Native Hawaiians behind and in front of the camera, supporting ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, encouraging better health and awareness in our community, from aloha ʻāina to the preservation of our analogue media. Those intentions turned into opportunities, documentaries and institutions.”
At the Hawaii International Film Festival, ‘Uluʻulu presented previously unseen footage that captured the making of the tapestries that adorn the walls of the State House and Senate chambers.
“What we do is not just preserve films and video but seek out the stories that bring these images to life. In this case, we tracked down some of the original weavers who helped in making the tapestries nearly 50 years ago!”
“‘Uluʻulu brings a visual memory, sometimes forgotten, back to life to enjoy and remember,” says Giugni, who hopes the footage will inspire the public to see those tapestries in a new light.