Alika Maikau

Writer and film maker from Kāne’ohe, Alika Maikau, shares with us his beginnings into both fields and how despite all obstacles, has been able to grow his craft. 

Words: Annie Nguyen | Photography: Alika Maikau

SIL_Y: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? And how has this shaped your work?

Alika: I was born and raised in Kāne’ohe on the island of O‘ahu. I went to Castle High School and got my degree in Creative Media from University of Hawai‘i Mānoa.

Having lived in Hawai’i my entire existence, O‘ahu is embedded in my DNA, and informs my work in ways that I probably don’t even consciously understand. Part of the reason why I’m still here is that  I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to move to Los Angeles or NYC to succeed in film, especially in the digital age. The other part, perhaps more significantly, is that I primarily want to tell local stories. There’s a rich tapestry here that has yet to be explored and remaining here and connected to that tissue is an imperative part of that process.

SIL_Y: What is your creative process? What motivates you to create?

Alika: I’ve come to realize that I’m my best self when I’m working. All of the bullshit I deal with becomes ancillary to the task at hand, and it’s almost become a necessity to free myself from the confines of my pain. And what I’ve found is, when I’m in this mindset, it opens up channels for ideas to flow more freely. Of course it’s really difficult to get to that state, but when I’m in it I know I need to do everything possible to stay in it because that feeling is ephemeral, and also tied to the level of pain I’m in.

I never know how I’m going to feel from one minute to the next, so when I’m feeling relatively stable I need try my best to take advantage of that. And because of my neck pain it’s difficult to write on a laptop, and even handwriting can be a challenge, so the most comfortable way for me to write has been on my phone, which comes with it’s fair share of issues but is the better alternative in terms of workflow.

SIL_Y: We first met via KTUH. At the time, you were also writing for Ka Leo O Hawai‘i and also pursuing photography and film. Can you share how you got into writing? How did that lead to photography and film?

Alika:  I’ve never been great in school, but English was essentially the only subject I wasn’t terrible at, so I naturally gravitated towards writing. My formative years coincided with a lot of inner turmoil, so it became cathartic to build these artificial worlds to live in, because a lot of times it was better or more interesting than my reality. With photography I’ve always just kind of done it as a hobby, and I also have a terrible memory, so the idea of freezing time was inherently alluring. On top of that I knew I was living in a very special place, so sharing that with other people through my lens became a weird sort of compulsion . So when I realized what I could do with film- compressing that amalgamation of interests into this new, mystical material, it seemed like the right path for me.

SIL_Y: You also produced music under the alias ADLT for a while. What inspired you to begin that project and how does music impact your work? Is that something you think you will continue?

Alika: I was inspired to begin that project when my homie Christian installed Ableton on my laptop, and I saw the possibilities this application presented. Like I directly saw that because it helped him launch his career, and I was very inspired by that. Music deals directly with emotions, it’s the most direct way of presenting an idea to someone because it doesn’t require much of the listener. No one is going to accidentally watch your movie, but someone might overhear your song at a store or in someone’s car, so I’ve always loved that notion and loved music so the two conjoined for a bit.

But that faded because I was having a hard time bringing my ideas together sonically . And so for me I wanted to translate the visceral feeling that music gave me into celluloid. I’m sure I’ll return to it someday – I actually have this insane idea that if I get to a certain level, I would like to personally give like A$AP Rocky or something a beat. I sent him some beats when he first came out but I don’t think he got them!

“I’ve come to realize that I’m my best self when I’m working. All of the bullshit I deal with becomes ancillary to the task at hand, and it’s almost become a necessity to free myself from the confines of my pain.”

SIL_Y: In our last conversation, you shared a little about your accident and how it's affected you. How has this changed you and how you approach your work?

Alika: It’s affected me deeply, in ways I wish it hadn’t. But basically I’ve been dealing with chronic pain in my neck since a car accident a couple years ago, and that happened right after I graduated- so I was pretty depressed for awhile. I was very active and played basketball everyday up to that point, so to not have that physical outlet drove me insane. But eventually it became like, “well, I’m gonna be in pain whether I lie in bed all day or not, so I might as well try to be productive.

And so when the opportunity to make this film presented itself I jumped at it, and through that I realized that it was something I could immerse myself in fully and provided a different avenue for dealing with my pain. I’m still dealing with it, but hopefully some upcoming procedures will help me regain my footing. Dealing with chronic pain is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, well except maybe Trump.

SIL_Y: Your latest project with Jonah Okano, which I am so excited about, is a short film titled Keep You Float. This is a film that you wrote and co-directed. Can you share with those who haven't seen it yet, the premise is?

Alika:  Keep You Float is about a group of friends coming together to decide where to scatter their friends ashes. I heard this quote from Tokimonsta, where she was talking about going through some life and death circumstances and she had to write a will, and she said she realized that “Your life is never, ever just your life. Your life is a part of everyone else’s life,” that sentiment perfectly encapsulates the themes of our film. I wrote the screenplay when I was still in school, but never did anything with it because at the time I didn’t feel capable of doing it justice as a director. But last year I reconnected with my classmate Jonah, and after seeing that we were on the same page, he was willing to help me bring the project to fruition better than I ever could have alone.

SIL_Y: What made you both focus on this theme? What made you guys want to create this film?

Alika: I guess I’ve always been fascinated with the way people grieve and mourn, and particularly here where it can be seen as a sobering celebration of life. We initially decided to broach the project because we had both been yearning to do something artistically, and our visions really aligned. It’s my first film since I graduated, and since I wrote it in school I kind of view it as a posthumous thesis film because my actual thesis film was terrible.

SIL_Y: What are some of the ways that people can catch this film? Any upcoming showings?

Alika: It’s last screening will be at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival on November 10th in Honolulu. After that I’ll probably put it up on Vimeo and YouTube.

SIL_Y: Lastly, what's next for you?

Alika: Keep You Float has afforded me some amazing opportunities, the most pivotal being an invitation to attend a workshop held by ‘Ohina, led by Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther. Through that workshop I’ve been granted the privilege to receive mentorship from Joe on my next script. And so with his guidance, I feel confident in saying our next project will be transformative. I have a lot to say, and I’m finally ready to start saying it.


Photography by Alika Maikau

Film stills from Keep Your Float directed by Alika Maikau and Jonah Okano

Find Alika Maikau online at his website, Soundcloud and Instagram.

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