This documentary explores the backstory of “Kipuka: An Anti-Bullying Project”. The word “kipuka” is Hawaiian for a tract of land surrounded by recent lava flows that often provides safety for animals in an otherwise inhospitable environment. For this anti-bullying project, these pockets of protected land are a metaphor for the people or places (safe havens) in everyone’s life where they go to survive when faced with a crisis like bullying.
George Kon, along with the late Walt Dulaney, founded the T-Shirt Theatre in 1985 at Farrington High School, located in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu. It is the performing company behind KIPUKA. T-Shirt Theatre is made up of students who reenact their personal stories to educate and engage the audience. For the KIPUKA project, students not only act out different bullying situations but also write the scenario and direct it based on their personal experiences. George Kon explains, “KIPUKA provides a number of ways to look at bullying, such as self-bullying, self-doubt, depression [and] being a bystander in a bullying situation.”
The KIPUKA project not only helps raise awareness about the negative effects of bullying, but often changes the perspective of those who take part in the project. The performing company also becomes role models when they tour their show at other schools. Then following the show, they pair up with the students for a share-backtime—when they hear their personal bullying stories so they can provide guidance for them.
In this documentary, the directors, founder and students of the project share their insights about KIPUKA. There are also some scenes from the theatrical performance interweaved throughout it. The film provides a good perspective about KIPUKA and all the work that goes into creating the production on such a tough and relevant subject like bullying. The performing company students share their stories of how being involved in this project has changed their lives for the better. Musical Director Jonah Moananu explains, “The stories that we are able to explore and tell, the young people are speaking on it. We’re giving them the safety to imagine better.”
Because this is a film about anti-bullying, some cautionary content includes bullying situations with mild name-calling and confrontation. Due to subject matter and a scene implying two girls are romantically involved, we are awarding our Dove Seal at 12+, highlighting the documentary’s positive message about putting a stop to bullying.