• 1/17/03

    Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai

    The Story Of Pioneering Hawaiian Surfer Rell Sunn, A Professional Surfer Who Brought Beauty and Grace to the Sport and to Her 15-Year Battle with Breast Cancer

    HEART OF THE SEA: KAPOLIOKA'EHUKAI Airs Nationally on Independent Lens on May 6, 2003 at 10 P.M. (check local listings) A co-presentation of Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) and Hawaii PTV.

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Mary Lugo, 770/623-8190; Cara White, 843/881-1480;

    (San Francisco, CA)—HEART OF THE SEA: KAPOLIOKA'EHUKAI is a moving portrait of a truly remarkable woman, Rell "Kapolioka'ehukai” Sunn, who died in January 1998 of breast cancer at the age of 47. Known worldwide as a pioneer of women's professional surfing, at home in Hawai'i Rell achieved the stature of an icon—not only for her physical power, grace and luminous beauty, but for her leadership in a community that loved her as much as she loved it. Produced by Charlotte Lagarde and directed by Lisa Denker and Lagarde, HEART OF THE SEA will air nationally on Independent Lens on PBS on May 6, 2003 at 10 P.M. (check local listings). HEART OF THE SEA is a co-presentation of Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) and Hawaii PTV.

    Rell lived her entire life in Makaha, a beach town on the leeward coast of Oahu troubled by crime, drug abuse and high teen pregnancy and school drop-out rates. But, to Rell, it was a place full of family and friends and her beloved ocean—"paradise on earth.” Rell began surfing at the age of 4 and never strayed far from the water. A dedicated diver, canoe paddler and surfer, she soon became the most accomplished water woman and best female longboarder in the world. Her form on the surfboard was breathtaking, echoing the grace and beauty of the hula, another of Rell's passions.

    Throughout her life, Rell led by doing. A professional surfer who carved the way for women in a sport dominated by men, Rell also led her community as an organizer and activist for at-risk youth and for the preservation of the natural beauty and cultural traditions of her native Hawai'i. She brought the joy she had found in surfing to the children of Makaha, founding the annual Menehune surfing contests for kids.

    At the peak of her career, at the age of 32, Rell was diagnosed with breast cancer. With no family history of the disease, Rell discovered that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women have the highest incidence of breast cancer of all women in the United States. When she realized that detection and prevention programs were seriously underfunded, Rell became an activist for breast cancer awareness and for the protection of the environment from the toxins she believed had caused her disease.

    HEART OF THE SEA traces Rell's remarkable personal and public life, interweaving her last interview in 1997 — two months before her death — with breathtaking surfing footage, archival news footage, home videos and interviews with her daughter, friends, fellow surfers, doctors and others in the community whose lives were changed by the way Rell chose to live hers. Although she underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation during her 15-year battle with the disease, Rell never let her cancer keep her from her love of surfing. HEART OF THE SEA is poignant testimony to one woman's radiant spirit that lives on in Makaha, throughout the Islands, and in all who were touched by the life of Rell Sunn.

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    HEART OF THE SEA Credits

    Executive Producer Janet Cole Producer Charlotte Lagarde
    Directors Lisa Denker, Charlotte Lagarde Editor Vivien Hillgrove Principal Photography Lisa Denker Underwater Cinematography Don King Original Score Miriam Cutler

    Featured Interviewees, in order of appearance

    Keith Block, MD, medical director, Block Medical Center Comprehensive Health Services in Evanston, IL. Jeannie Chesser, former professional surfer Jeff Divine, photo editor of Surfer's Journal Sonja Evensen, former professional windsurfer and educator Luana Froiseth, outrigger coach and Rell's childhood friend Fred Hemmings, Hawai'i state senator, former world champion surfer and surf promoter Brooke Holt-Froiseth, organizer of the Menehune contest Malia Jones, former Menehune who traveled with Rell to Biarritz Vi Jones, surfer, mother of Malia Jones Dalani Kauihou, surfer, teacher of traditional crafts and culture Brian Keaulana, world reknowned waterman Momie Keaulana, Rell's auntie Jennifer Lee, surfer, former Menehune Marilyn Link, neighbor and friend Ron Mizutani, television sports newscaster for KHON, Hawai'i. Mark Renneker, MD, patient advocacy specialist in San Francisco, California Jan Sunn-Carreira, Rell's daughter Kathy Terada, surfer, nurse, hula dancer Keoni Watson, former Menehune, professional surfer


    Special Jury Prize/Aloha Spirit Award, 2002 Hawaii International Film Festival Best Documentary nomination, 2002 Ashland International Film Festival

    About the Filmmakers

    Charlotte Lagarde's (Producer / Director) films include the award-winning documentary Swell (1996), about four generations of female surfers in Santa Cruz, California and Zeuf (1994), a documentary about a woman surfer's struggle with breast cancer. Both documentaries were broadcast on PBS stations and on the Sundance Channel and are currently in distribution on home video. Lagarde's Every Child Should Have A Chance (2001), Tribal Sovereignty: Unplugged (1998), and Juvenile Justice: Unplugged (1997), are distributed in public schools throughout the United States, and the latter was screened at the White House for public policy makers responsible for the treatment of children in the justice system.

    Lisa Denker (Director / Cinematographer) started working in film immediately after leaving the Art Center School of Design's film program. She has had a varied career in film, from art directing the Grammy award winning rock video for Melissa Etheridge' "Ain't It Heavy", to the independent Gas, Food and Lodging and Citizen Ruth. Lisa went on to union work on big budget films such as Batman Returns. A decade later, Lisa wanted to get back to hands on filmmaking. Through a series of collaborations, she was lead to the creation of her latest film HEART OF THE SEA. This is Lisa's Directorial debut.

    Veteran producer Janet Cole's (Executive Producer) executive producing credits include the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning Promises; Regret To Inform (for which she received Academy Award and Emmy nominations as well as a George Foster Peabody Award); and the upcoming Freedom Machines. She also produced the Emmy-nominated Paragraph 175 for HBO and Channel Four, and Absolutely Positive with director Peter Adair. Cole has specialized in the strategic distribution and production of social issue films for over 20 years and is a frequent consultant and advisor to filmmakers, media arts groups and foundations.

    About Independent Lens

    Independent Lens is a groundbreaking weekly primetime PBS series that airs on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. and presents American and international documentaries and a limited number of dramas. Each week Independent Lens bursts onto the screen and presents a unique individual, community or moment in history to bring viewers gripping stories that inspire, engage, provoke and delight. From pioneering women surfers to brilliant composers to brave resistance fighters, Independent Lens introduces people whose stories are unforgettable. Independent Lens is for curious viewers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds; all that's required is a TV and an inquiring mind. The Executive Producer of Independent Lens is Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS Executive Director. Independent Lens is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), with additional funding provided by PBS.

    About ITVS

    Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by the vision of media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. Contact ITVS at or visit ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.