HIFF started as a project of the East-West Center, an educational and research institution created by U.S. Congress and located on the University of Hawai`i Manoa campus in Honolulu. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko was HIFF’s Founding Director, from 1981 to 1996.
In 1981, HIFF’s inaugural year, the program consisted of seven films from six countries which were viewed by an audience of 5,000. Today, HIFF is a premiere cinematic event in the Pacific and annually attracts more than 70,000 film enthusiasts from around the state, the nation and throughout the world.
HIFF is unique in discovering features, documentaries and shorts from Asia made by Asians, films about the Pacific made by Pacific Islanders, and films made by Hawai`i filmmakers that present Hawai`i in a culturally accurate way.
Each year in preparation for the event, HIFF programmers view some 1,000 films and choose an average of 150 features, documentaries and film shorts. Among them are world premieres, North American premieres, U.S. premieres, experimental films, animation and digital works representing social and ethnic issues, and first features by new directors.
HIFF also conducts seminars, workshops, special award presentation receptions with top Asian, Pacific and North American filmmakers participating.
Since its inception, more than 950,000 people from throughout the world have shared HIFF film screenings and insights.