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The Other Side of Paradise

An interview with filmmaker Randy Fermo

By Johanna Brown

Nov. 16, 2007—Faced with the option of starting a nonprofit, or shooting a documentary, first-time filmmaker Randy Fermo "chose to do a film."

The Other Side of Paradise "is based on my first-hand experience with the homeless community in Hawaii," said Fermo.

A native of the Philippines, Fermo received inspiration for The Other Side of Paradise during his first trip to Hawaii in 2003. "I was at the food court at the Ala Moana Mall…when an elderly woman was sitting next to me," Fermo explained. She told Fermo that her family had thrown her out of the house and she was homeless.

"I was shocked…The next day, I decided to investigate homelessness in Hawaii."

Through his explorations, Fermo discovered homeless people living on Waikiki and Ala Moana Beach; a stark contrast to the atmosphere he expected to find in Hawaii. Through conversations with local residents, Fermo heard stories about skyrocketing rent, a dearth of affordable housing, low wages, and mass migration to the U.S. mainland. "I learned that every homeless person in Hawaii has a different story."

A few days later, Fermo had to head back to the U.S. mainland (at the time he was a student at Ohio State University). However, he couldn't forget the homeless images he saw in Hawaii.

"It is very hard to explain my attachment to the people in Hawaii," stated Fermo. He returned to Hawaii in December 2003 for a six-month stay. During that visit he spent time "learning more about homelessness [in] the Leeward Coast of Hawaii…and trying to figure out the best way to help the homeless."

After brainstorming several possible solutions with his contacts in Hawaii and in the US mainland, Fermo eventually decided to shoot a documentary because of its ability to stimulate discussion.

"We felt that what we are doing has never been done before," explained Fermo. Fermo's goal is to have a short version of the film completed in early 2008 "so that people can start speaking [about the film]…We need to get a debate going."

For the past year and a half, Fermo and his team have been researching and shooting footage for The Other Side of Paradise.

"The documentary will have interviews with members of the local and academic community," explained Fermo. "We are in contact with several Hawaiian communities in the mainland" to discuss the relationship between migration and homelessness in Hawaii, he added. Most recently, the University of Hawaii has endorsed the film and given Fermo access to its archives.

Fermo is currently in Atlanta to garner support for his film. He wants "to break through in the Atlanta film community because we need everyone's help to finish our film."

In addition, Fermo has begun working on a new project. "The Atlanta Homelessness Film Project is basically about finding and telling various stories on homelessness," said Fermo, who is trying to recruit a volunteer crew to film and interview members of Atlanta's homeless community. He said he is "hoping to premier the informative video at the Atlanta City Council…I wish to give members of the homeless community an opportunity to showcase their talents and give them hope."

This December, The Other Side of Paradise will go into post-production editing. "The Other Side of Paradise is not anti-tourism," Fermo makes sure to point out. "What I would like to accomplish in this film is to have people understand what the real Hawaii is like."

More information about The Other Side of Paradise can be found at: