By Catherine Tarleton
Every day, people travel from around the planet to bask in the Hawai‘i Island sun, immerse in the ocean and feel the warm culture of aloha. This fall, that welcome extends to those from far, far away during HawaiiCon, a multi-day celebration of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and all things science fiction, happening at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, September 14–17, 2017.
“People don’t realize it—if you haven’t been there, it’s really hard to describe. I just have to say ‘trust me; it’s amazing’,” says Patricia Tallman, actress, stuntwoman, author and entrepreneur. Known for her role as Lyta Alexander on the Hugo Award winning Babylon 5, Patricia has made it her mission to lead the celebrity excursions for HawaiiCon. These adventures give fans a chance to go zip lining with Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), to snorkel with Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek guru Gene Roddenberry, or take a night swim with the mantas and Temuera Morrison, the voice of Moana’s father.
These are just a few in the stellar field of 40 celebrity guests, gathered from across the sci-fi universe by HawaiiCon creator GB Hajim, filmmaker, teacher, Hawaiian speaker, dad and steward of the family farm in Pāpa‘ikou. HawaiiCon’s vast and expanding network of special guests includes actors and voice-over actors, writers, artists, cartoonists, costume designers, prop builders, gamers, cosplayers, vendors, fans and friends. It also includes actual scientists and cultural practitioners, of the nonfiction world.
“Sci-fi inspires scientists to imagine greater things,” says GB. “I want HawaiiCon to inspire people. We have all these scientists come, celebrities come. It inspires all of us to imagine great things.” Dozens of workshops, panels and activities—many geared toward the keiki (children)—include rockets, robotics, planetarium shows, stargazing, celestial navigation, oceanography, archeology and many more.
GB himself has a science background, having originally studied astrophysics in college, yet he was drawn to art: painting, sculpture, installation work and murals. In the 1980’s, he discovered a passion for film, which satisfied both sides of his brain, logical and artistic. That led GB on a journey across Polynesia—Hawai‘i, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa—to make a documentary on ceremonial kava bowls.
“I got to sit at the King’s kava ceremony in the 80’s in Tonga,” GB says. “It was incredible. So much of the culture was still intact… Everybody opened their homes to me; I fell in love with that island community, that feeling of aloha.”
In 1997, GB made a documentary about Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park for the Discovery Channel, and worked with ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, to produce more than 120 videos in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, and—as far as he knows—the only feature length film in Hawaiian, becoming fluent in the language along the way.
In 2013, he completed an original sci-fi film, an animated lesbian musical called Strange Frame: Love & Sax with filmmaker Shelley Doty. To give it the professional sound he wanted, he took a shot at the stars. “I went to Skywalker Sound,” says GB. “They had the sound engineers I really wanted. I got punted to Gary Rizzo (Batman) and he signed on. And, because he signed on, voice casting agent Jamie Thomason (Lilo & Stitch) signed on, and it was like ‘who do you want in your movie’?”
As a result, the characters of Strange Frame speak with the skilled voices of actors like Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Michael Dorn (Star Trek), Ron Glass (Serenity), George Takei (Star Trek), and Alan Tudyk (Serenity).
“I got to spend a month in Skywalker Ranch, ‘Nerdvana’,” says GB. “Brave was mixing across the hall, Avatar had just finished. Our little tiny movie was being mixed in this incredible place.” When completed, Strange Frame went on to screen around the world, inspiring audiences and bending barriers.
In 2013, GB was developing another script, and called on actors he’d worked with before. What he heard was that many of them were busy going to sci-fi conventions, “cons,” and he had the thought: Why can’t it be in Hawai‘i? With a Kickstarter campaign that doubled its $35,000 goal and a lot of creative perseverance, the first HawaiiCon launched in September of the following year.
“That first year we had Walter Koenig (Chekov from Star Trek), cast members from Stargate Atlantis, Aaron Douglas of Battlestar Gallactica, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and Patricia Tallman—who’s in charge of all of our tours now, Steve Blum,” says GB. “Once they get to experience the island, experience feeling the aloha, feeling the ‘ohana, they want to come back. That’s the magic of HawaiiCon.”
Steve Blum is a super prolific voice-over actor, who has played over 650 characters—including the voice of host Tom on the Cartoon Network—since his career began in 1981. “My first real job was sorting comics in my grandfather’s bookstore at age 12, so that’s most likely where the nerd foundation began to set in,” he says.
“I’ve been coming to the islands since I was little,” says Steve. “I’ve always loved Hawai‘i, but the trip to HawaiiCon changed everything for Mary and me. The people we’ve met on Hawai‘i Island became instant friends and truly feel like family. We’ve felt magic there every trip. And the island calls to us literally on a daily basis… I’ve never felt more connected anywhere else on the planet.”
This year’s sci-fi stars represent all phases of the genre. In addition to actors already mentioned, there’s Daniel Logan, who played Boba Fett in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), and voice-over actors like Steve Blum (Call of Duty), and Cree Summer (Guardians of the Galaxy), among others.
The lineup also includes a cast of professional cosplayers, a cohort of comic book artists, a posse of prop builders and a warren of writers from across the sci-fi genres. These include comic book artists and writers, YouTubers, screenwriters and the amazing Dr. Keao NeSmith who has translated The Hobbit and other classic fantasies into ʻōlelo Hawai‘i. Many of the writers, artists and other creatives teach workshops during the “con” as well.
The schedule is nonstop and the possibilities are endless. With coffee, and determination, an immersive day at HawaiiCon could look something like this: 8am, Get down to the beach for “Becoming Jedi” class. At 10am, send the kids to either build a bottle rocket or make a dragon egg, while you check out the celebrity auction. Don’t miss the photo op with Tem Morrison at 11am, then grab a bite from one of the food trucks and enjoy the performance by Puna Taiko. At 1pm, there’s the Keiki Cosplay Contest. Afterward, go through the Vendor Room; then the kids can try Wand Making while you get ready for the grownup Cosplay Contest. Or, if you forgot your light sabre, sit in on the “Geek Film Fest,” or try your skills in the Gaming Room.
And, of course there are adventures with Patricia and the stars. Organizing and accompanying the excursions was a natural role for her. “It fits my experience. I love the water, love to SCUBA and snorkel. I’m a beach girl, always happy on the water. Plus I love taking care of people. It’s a sweet spot in my diagram of talents,” she says.
Between acting gigs, Patricia runs what she calls “adventure retreats for nerds” through her own company, Quest Retreats. This year, she led a London tour, with a focus for fans of fiction like Harry Potter, and next year, it’s New Zealand and Lord of the Rings. This fall, one of her adventure retreats concludes at HawaiiCon.
“I only do stuff that makes me ferociously excited. When you get together with a group of people who come together because you love something, it creates its own energy. It’s always amazing, always wonderful,” she says. “This magic stuff works.”
“HawaiiCon is a great place to hang out and celebrate fandoms,” GB says. “It’s about the real depths of fandom and the underlying mythologies. It’s a belief system, one that guides us to write better stories and inspire more people… Lots of cons are just about celebrity worship. We want to add depth to it, to get into its meaning,” he continues. “Why do we love these things? Why do people cosplay? Why is it important to us?”
One important reason GB does it is to help the Force extend to future generations. HawaiiCon is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, whose mission is to “increase public awareness of science, the science fiction genre, and mythologies, past and present, which guide humanity. HawaiiCon will emphasize education and uniquely Hawaiian contributions to science, including navigation, and ensure that Native Hawaiian culture is accorded an honored place in the conversation of science and science fiction.” To that end, proceeds from HawaiiCon benefit performing arts and robotics programs for youth on Hawai‘i Island.
One-day admission starts at $10, with four-day passes from $169, and discounted prices for keiki. Tours and special events are additional. Some workshops add a materials fee. For complete information and tickets, visit HawaiiCon.com. ❖
*Mōhihi‘o. Science fiction. From mō‘ike, to interpret dreams; dream interpreter, and hihi‘o, a dream or vision.