HONOLULU (KHON) – The biggest film festival in the Pacific is returning to Hawaii, with 186 films hailing from across the globe.

One of the films making its Hawaii debut at the 43rd Hawai’i International Film Festival is UNCLE BULLY’S SURF SKOOL, produced by Maui-resident Leah Warshawski. Directed by Warshawski and Todd Soliday, the heartwarming documentary tells the story of Maui Surf Instructor Bull Kotter and his special connection with the underserved and homeless youth of Lahaina.

When the pandemic hit, Bull Kotter, or “Bully”, saw his small business face rough times. Instead of seeking help for himself, he decided to give back to his community.

“I actually took a surf lesson from Uncle Bully during COVID,” said Warshawski.

“So I took a lesson and then found out that he was teaching some of the homeless kids on Maui, how to surf and having a free surf camp during COVID. We found out a little bit more about his personal journey, how he overcame some of his own challenges in life. My husband and I have a production company, Inflatable Film. We make impact films about people we call ‘Wounded Healers.’ People who make a huge impact in the world, but have overcome a lot to get where they are. He’s one of those people. We were just naturally drawn to him and his story and what he was doing.”

Uncle Bully and his young students were fortunate to be safe during the Maui wildfires. However, many families in the area lost their homes and livelihoods.

The original film captures what Lahaina used to be like, a record of its past. Warshawski and her Inflatable Film team have been on the ground in Lahaina, filming new footage that will be added as a coda to the film. This new footage will show the journeys of remembrance, recovery, resilience, and rebuilding in the community after the wildfire.

The cast and crew from Maui will be on Oahu for an extended discussion with the audience after the film, which premieres free on opening night on Thursday, October 12.

HIFF is taking “UNCLE BULLY’S SURF SKOOL” to all their venues on the Neighbor Islands to support various #MauiStrong initiatives, including the “Uncle Bully’s Surf Skool Film Impact Initiative.”

This initiative aims to raise awareness and support for the long-term recovery of Lahaina and highlight the importance of mentorship in all communities.

The 43rd Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF43), presented by Halekulani, kicks off on Oahu from October 12th to October 22nd. The festivities continue on Maui and Kaua’i from October 26th to 29th, Lana’i from October 30th to November 1st, and wrapping up on the Big Island from November 2nd to 5th.