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[Vol. 21, no. 1]
February/March 2018


Saving Celluloid 

Story by Matthew Dekneef

Photos by Dana Edmunds 


Heather Giugni
is in a race against time. But as we speed toward the future home of ‘Ulu‘ulu, she breathes an audible sigh of relief. The building looming on the horizon before us—the soon-to-be-completed campus library of the University of Hawai‘i at West O‘ahu—will play a vital role in securing the huge goal Giugni has been driving toward for years: preserving the entire visual film history of Hawai‘i.


A documentary filmmaker (recently turned state legislator) with a passion for telling Native Hawaiian stories, Giugni’s been part of a tight-knit circle of local filmmakers since the 1970s, when shooting on videotape and film was the norm. The filmmakers were rich in ideas but poor in cash—which meant, says Giugni, that they couldn’t afford to create climate-controlled storage units to protect the hours and hours and hours of footage they’d shot from the ravages of Hawai‘i’s humid environment. And so, she says, “We’d just keep all the raw tapes and drag them around. Oh my God, you have no idea what that was like. It was like two thousand tapes!” Over the years, tapes such as hers sat on the bottom shelves of homes, in museums and in news stations across the state—precious materials at risk of decaying past the point of no return. In the meantime technology evolved as recording switched from analog to digital. The best way to safeguard the materials, it became clear, would be to convert them to digital—but that was another expensive proposition. And so the question remained for Giugni and her colleagues: “What are we going to do with our films and how can we preserve them?”


The answer came soon after her father Henry Ku‘ualoha Giugni, the former Sergeant-at-Arms to the United States Senate, passed away. In 2005 Giugni was approached by Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was seeking a way to memorialize Henry Giugni, who had long been his political confidant and friend. The filmmaker suggested creating a much-needed digital archive in her father’s name. The state-ofthe- art archive Giugni envisioned would serve as a visual encyclopedia of Hawai‘i’s history, a comprehensive and authoritative collection that would, in the words of its mission statement, “perpetuate and share the rich moving image heritage of Hawai‘i through the preservation of film and video.” Eventually the project came to be known, in honor of Heather’s father, as ‘Ulu‘ulu: The Henry Ku‘ualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawai‘i. ‘Ulu‘ulu is Hawaiian for “collection” or “assembly.”