Jack Johnson, Michael Franti, Kelly Slater, Willie K., and Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom star in a documentary directed by Ira Hopper and written by Steve Barilotti. Screens on Saturday, May 13, at the Lobero Theatre in a benefit for Growing Solutions.
Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
In the Hawaiian language, the word “kokua” means, roughly, “to help,” but it’s much more than that — it’s considered an ancient form of friendship that derived from the islands’ communal lifestyle, whereby neighbors help each other simply because it’s the natural thing to do. So it was a no-brainer for Oahu-born Jack Johnson to brand his island-based nonprofit organization the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, which has been educating islanders about recycling, waste reduction, sustainable eating, and all-things environmental for more than two years now. It was even more natural for the UCSB grad to publicize the organization by throwing a big concert in 2004, an annual event that’s continued with increasingly big names each year while also spreading from Oahu to Maui.
This eponymous film revolves around the inaugural Kokua event, but it’s far more than a concert doc. Sure, there’s ample footage of a barefoot Jack playing all the songs we know to his hometown crowd — as well as Michael Franti and Spearhead jamming it up, guitar virtuoso Makana laying riffs down, and Hawaiian superstars such as Uncle Willie K. and Amy Hānaiali‘i Gilliom unleashing traditional tunes — but the soul of this documentary is the message that Jack is cultivating for his people.
We see Jack in a North Shore classroom singing the “3Rs” — reduce, reuse, recycle — to students who sing back at him, doing what he describes as “planting little seeds.” Via an educational recycling lesson, we hear from Oahu’s trash experts, explaining the impact that the Kokua Foundation’s programs are having on the islands’ few landfills. And we also learn how Jack learned about recycling — and about litter in general as a grom evolving from shorebreak surfing to Sunset Beach ripping — in between footage of Jack biking around his ’hood and surfing Pipeline with buddy Kelly Slater.
All together, it’s an environmentally minded concert ’n’ surf film with enough substance that neither the surfing nor concert footage become dull. Well edited, well directed, and well intended, Kokua is the perfect feature to show as a benefit for Growing Solutions, a Santa Barbara organization dedicated to native plant restoration, watershed rehabilitation, and sustainability as a whole. So go check it out this Saturday — and you never know, Jack might just show up himself.