Identity is important in Cane Fire. Its director, Anthony Banua-Simon has done work in subversive version travelogues and is diving deep into the colonialist industry in his home state, Hawaii. Here, he talks to managers of sugar plantations and real estate salesmen, most of whom are white, some of whom know their privilege.
This documentary also shows the other side of that industry, the immigrants that those plantations sent to work the fields, their descendants having to work multiple jobs to survive. Some of that work was in Hollywood movies that exist as propaganda to turn Hawaii into a state.
Banua-Simon, then, documents the push and pull between the developers, mostly white, and the diverse group of people trying to reclaim the land that nature tries to return to them. The latter has many aims, like reclaiming the language and the culture that existed in Hawaii before the settlers came.
Cane Fire also looks at Banua-Simon’s cousins. Banua-Simon is Filipino and, presumably, looks like his great-grandfather who was an extra in the Lois Weber film that also uses Cane Fire as a name. His cousin is white but tries to live off the sea, subverting audience assumptions about ‘lazy’ surfer types.
Another group of people it looks at are the union members benefiting from the victories of their organizations. Some members live in the land that the union guaranteed for them. Banua-Simon spends the necessary amount of time with them to show how vulnerable their status as legal homeowners are.
And just like those homeowners, everyone is vulnerable to the encroaching demand for this coveted real estate. People trying to live off or reclaim the land feel the burden of the labor they need to survive. They end up serving settlers and this look on their lives is sobering. For more info on how to see Cane Fire you can visit Hot Docs right here.