Chapter 1 / Collective
Words by: Hannah Chew
Photography by: Elliott Graham
Make decisions that break barriers and borders – we know, it’s easier said than done.
It is a commitment that we continue to practice at OCIN, whether it be sparking discussion on a challenging issue, or bringing communities together through our platform. As a part of this ongoing journey, we seek to surround ourselves with people who share our desire to embrace the fear, chaos, and excitement that results from stepping into unfamiliar territory.
Etienne Aurelius, a videographer, director, and producer, is an artist in our collective who exemplifies this idea. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, his work began in the surf community, and he is currently the main videographer for actor and director, Jason Momoa. Etienne’s work captures the thrill of fleeting moments in time and aspires to change the consciousness of his audience.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Etienne and discuss his roots, the inspiration behind his work, and his recent short film with Jason Momoa, “WE ARE MAUNA KEA”. Read more about Etienne Aurelius, the multi-talented artist who is telling the story of people and places that are too often overlooked.
Etienne describes his relationship with filmmaking as one that began at an early age. Dropping out of school in 9th grade, his passion for film provided him with a sense of direction, which ultimately evolved into the success of his career today.
“I feel that I was born with this ability to make films. When I was four years old, my mom told me that I was going to be a famous director making films that would change the world. She implanted that in my head like a religion. It made me feel like a superhero, like I had some kind of destiny and special power.”
Much of Etienne’s approach to filmmaking is inspired by his childhood experiences living in Hawai‘i. Growing up in what he describes as “the ghetto of Kaua‘i”, he witnessed firsthand the impact of poverty on his community.
With the ultimate goal of being noticed by someone in Hollywood, he looked inwards, asking himself the question “Who are the most famous people in Hawai‘i?”. The resounding answer was surfers, so he began there.
“The way I made my films about surfers different was that I told stories of who they were and how they got to become a professional surfer. I would always pick the people I related to, who were the ones that were overlooked – the underdogs.”
“I created arthouse projects that only I liked, and that only I thought were cool – I didn’t give a shit about what anyone else thought. I was inspired by famous artists, like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who were making films and were artists as well. The films that artists made were very different, so I took all those styles and put them into the mainstream work that I was doing with surfing.”
The culture of Hawai‘i and its people have also played a major role in shaping Etienne’s work and his constant willingness to step outside of his comfort zone. He describes how the North Shore of O‘ahu is often seen as the proving grounds for surfing, though for Etienne it was also the proving grounds for him as a filmmaker.
“There’s a light side and a dark side, and I have a tendency to always go where it's rough and rugged, because growing up that’s what I was used to. I feel comfortable in the places where people feel afraid. It’s the thrill of capturing a moment that will never ever repeat itself again, because every moment forward becomes a part of history. You are living life on the edge, and I feel that when you do that, the view is much better.”
The root of solving all of our problems is having love for people and the world, and if you can instill that idea, you’ve won.
For Etienne, his ultimate goal as a director is not concerned with fame or money. Through interacting with his work, he hopes to change the consciousness of his audience, encouraging action and kindness.
“When I can make a film that makes you feel something, such as that feeling that you are not alone, I have subconsciously programmed you to be inspired. The root of solving all of our problems is having love for people and the world, and if you can instill that idea, you’ve won.”
His philosophy and film portfolio evidently caught the attention of actor and director, Jason Momoa, who reached out to partner on a behind the scenes documentary for the Netflix show, Frontier. They have continued working together since, creating their company On the Realm, which has created about 40 films in the last year.
Etienne’s recent short film created for Momoa’s YouTube channel, “WE ARE MAUNA KEA”, highlights the destructive impacts of a proposed thirty meter telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i.
“The inspiration for the film was the day that the Hawai‘i governor issued 300 of our police officers, who were mostly native Hawaiians, and pervasively forced them to arrest their own people. The governor single handedly tried to destroy a culture and community, who has been pushed around and taken from their whole lives. They attempted to destroy a culture to build a telescope, which may be helpful for humanity, but at the cost of what? At the end of the day it’s irresponsible decision making in the name of science, based off of greed.”
“WE ARE MAUNA KEA” represents one of the many ways that Etienne Aurelius is using his art as a platform to incite change. He continues to inspire us to do the same, and leaves us with this final piece of advice : “Constantly speak your mind on the fact if we don’t do anything, we will all be dead in the next 50 years. That’s the bottom line, and if you can solidify that truth, then you’ve won the battle. The more you say it, the more it will become a reality.”
Check out “WE ARE MAUNA KEA”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2w8TWpSfgQ
1. Where’s home? I was born in O‘ahu, raised in Kaua‘i, moved back to O‘ahu, and now I’m a gypsy moving around the world making films.
2. What song do you put on to inspire your most open mind? Kanye West. All of them.
3. What are your favorite spots that help you clear your mind? The deserts of Jordan, particularly Wadi Rum. Also Whistler, in the depths of the snow glacier fields. If I’m in a place where my ears are ringing and I’m outdoors, that is pure bliss.
4. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not behind the camera? I like to take a stand up paddleboard to the middle of the ocean, lay down on it, fall asleep, and wake up wherever it takes me.