Big Island Film Festival - an Interview with the Founder, Leo W. Sears

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Grab your plane tickets!! The Big Island Film Festival is coming up soon!

I have always wanted to go to Hawaii - my cousin has had a sabbatical there, twice (lucky, escaping these long midwestern winters!). I have long been interested in Hawaiian culture, and of course, the ocean. I am also very interested in films, and I recently found out about the Big Island Film Festival, held in May of each year. Although they are very busy preparing for the Festival, I was lucky enough to sit down with the founders of the Big Island Film Festival (and retired educators), Leo and Jan Sears, and get an inside scoop.

WE: tell us a little bit about the film festival.

LS: The Big Island Film Festival, held each May, celebrates narrative filmmakers and their films. Unlike other film festivals, our emphasis is on the the filmmaker, the storyteller. Over the days of the festival we incorporate not only showing films, but also food and beverage events, Hawaiian culture and music, filmmaker panels and awards. We have two evening "under the stars" venues and one indoor venue. On the final night there is a two-hour Hawaiian music concert, the showing of the Audience Choice Feature and Short, and a silent auction to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. We do all we can do to wrap the whole experience in the Spirit of Aloha.

WE: what led you to create this film festival?

LS: The Big Island Film Festival germinated from a seed planted in my mind when I was at the Maui Film Festival. I had been at film festivals as both a filmmaker and a paying audience member. I had never worked on a film festival before, but created the Big Island Film Festival based on my experiences. I saw the need to bring a film festival to the Waikoloa Beach Resort, taking advantage of the great weather, beautiful beaches, and world class resorts. On May 18 - 21, 2006, the first Big Island Film Festival took place.

WE: what are your backgrounds?

LS: Jan was retired from education in 2000, having been a counselor and counseling coordinator for Glendale Union High School District. I had been a high school teacher of English, speech and theater until I retired in 2001. I was also a play producer and director and a published playwright whose four plays are performed across the US and Canada. From 1982 until 1991, we owned and ran Metro Playhouse (a theater company) in Phoenix, Arizona. We moved to Hawaii in September, 2001.

WE: how can our traveling educators participate in future film festivals?

LS: The Big Island Film Festival will continue to take place the week following Mother's Day. To keep apprised of Big Island Film Festival, as it grows into one of the premiere events in Hawaii, check out The film festival was cancelled in 2017, but will hopefully resume in 2018.


WE: Thank you, Leo, for taking the time out of your busy pre-Festival schedule to introduce our wandering educators to your film festival! I hope that many of us will visit the Film Festival and the Big Island in the future.


Big Island Film Festival 2007











The 2007 Filmmakers and Big Island Film Festival Staff following the Awards Brunch

Leo W. Sears and Rick Stevenson














Leo W. Sears, Executive Director/Founder, with filmmaker Rick Stevenson, who was given the 2007 Golden Honu Award for Filmmaking



All photos from the 2007 Big Island Film Festival, courtesy of Anthony Valadon