By Léo Azambuja

Siena Agudong at Hemingway Cafe. Photo by Léo Azambuja

I was 7 years old when King Kong hit the theaters in 1976. Yes, I did fall in love with Jessica Lange, but who didn’t? Then in 1978, Fantasy Island was first shown on TV, and I followed the series to the bitter end in 1984. Somewhere in between, Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, and it became one of my favorite action movies.

Little did I know, a few years later I would be moving to Kaua‘i, the island where all these and other movies and TV series were filmed.

Countless movies have been shot on the Garden Island. Timeless Hollywood stars such as Elvis Presley, Esther Williams, Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, John Wayne, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon Harrison Ford and many others have shot movies here.

We live on a gorgeous island that is a magnet for Hollywood blockbusters. What is the lure for Hollywood crews to come so often to Kaua‘i, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? There are certainly many other beautiful locations around the globe. But I think if there is one thing that exceeds our island’s beauty, it is the aloha we have to offer.

For many years, Kaua‘i has showered visiting movie crews with aloha. It was only reasonable this interaction would inspire our own to seek the limelight.

My favorite line from Wailua’s beloved singer-songwriter Larry Rivera is when I asked him if he played with Elvis at the old Coco Palms Resort. He stuffed his chest, smiling, and said, “Elvis played with me (emphasis on ‘me’), he was my backing vocal.” Fair enough, Larry. You earned it.

Some of our local talents who made to the silver screen include Kepa Kruse, Sanoe Lake and Kala Alexander, all of them with recent or ongoing work. And let’s not forget Kai Garcia, who worked in acting roles and continues to get work as a stunt. I know there are others I’m forgetting, so I apologize in advance for not mentioning them.

The latest rising stars from Kaua‘i are sisters Siena and Sydney Agudong. The younger Siena is only 15 years old, and has already an extensive resume with leading roles in TV series and movies. Our cover story this month tells a little about Siena’s journey.

Sydney started acting before Siena, and she was actually the inspiration for her younger sister to begin acting. Sydney, also a talented singer, just wrapped shooting a supporting role for a movie that is currently in post-production.

In the late 1990s, I used to work at the Kaua‘i Marriott alongside Siena’s and Sydney’s father, Kenny. His kids weren’t even born yet. It’s really cool to find out down the line his family is doing really well.

As for Siena, I interviewed her more than five years ago, when she played a recurring role at ABC’s Texas Ranger, Killer Women. She was only 9 years, and already had the charisma of a star. When we met again for this month’s cover story, I was impressed on how far she has gotten, both in personal and career development.

Siena seemed to really remain grounded by her family, and says she loves to spend as much time as possible with them. She is the first to acknowledge she wouldn’t be able to get to where she is if it weren’t for the support from her ‘ohana.

Strong family values are the pillars to build and maintain a tight-knit community like the one we have on Kaua‘i. In Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, an animated blockbuster set on Kaua‘i, Lilo said, “‘Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind.” This brings me right back to aloha, which starts at home, in our ‘ohana.

Our island’s beauty may the first eye-catcher for movie producers who have never been to Kaua‘i, and are looking for new locations. But the aloha is what makes them comes back. Over and over.