Hot Docs 2024: Qs à la mode with… Jalena Keane-Lee (Standing Above the Clouds)

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In Standing Above the Clouds, director Jalena Keane-Lee tracks the efforts of a group of women leading the movement to protect Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea from overdevelopment. We posed our Qs à la mode to Jalena, and here’s what she shared!


If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Sacred, fierce, healing.

I decided to make this film because: I want the world to know that Indigenous women are, and have always been, leading the movement to protect our planet. I want everyone to know that the world we want to create and live in is possible and worth fighting for. Liberation is on the horizon and it takes all of us getting involved.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: As I learned more about the movement and the wahine [women] in our film, I was in awe of all that it takes to stand, and the way they have committed their lives to protecting their land. I was surprised by all it took — and continues to take — to show up and stand in court to defend Mauna Kea in a legal setting, and how, without any formal legal training, they all dedicated hundreds of hours to crafting testimony and showing up in spaces that were not designed for them to succeed in.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: When Aunty Pua, Hāwane and Kapulei are presented with a kiʻi [carved statue] that represents all of the divine feminine elemental beings on the mountain. This was one of the most beautiful and moving moments I have ever witnessed, and it was such a privilege to be able to document it and show it in our film. That scene still makes me tear up every time I see it.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Both fundraising and filming in harsh weather conditions that constantly change. On Mauna Kea, it is both a high altitude — 7,000 to 14,000 feet — and one moment could be fully sunny and warm, then pouring rain with whipping winds the next, which is hard to plan for, especially when I was filming by myself.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: A tie between my Zeiss loxia 85mm lens, which I love, and a small rugged hard drive that is indeed waterproof — I tested through some moments of pouring rain — and helped me offload footage easily while living in a tent on the frontline.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Take yourself and your craft seriously — no one is going to call you a director or filmmaker until you claim it for yourself and step into your vision of who you want to be. You need to believe in yourself first, and surround yourself with people who will help pull you through when the doubt creeps in. The stories you want to tell are worth telling and, with the support of your community, you can make the films that the world needs to see.


Want to check out Jalena’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!


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