Planting Little Seeds


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

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.


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