"Niu Forever" Documentary

Kapolei, Hawaii | Film Feature

Documentary, Nature

Alex Cantatore

1 Campaigns | California, United States

Green Light

This campaign raised $41,147 for production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

228 supporters | followers

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Niu Forever invites you into the heart of Hawai'i, where the coconut tree embodies resilience, food sovereignty, and cultural reawakening. See how communities come together to protect genetic diversity, combat invasive species, and find healing through their deep connection to land and each other.

About The Project

  • The Story
  • Wishlist
  • Updates
  • The Team
  • Community

Mission Statement

Our role as filmmakers is as attentive listeners and story weavers. This film features the voices of Native Hawaiians and Indigenous collaborators spanning the Pacific to the Indian Ocean as they tell the story of a movement that channels ancient knowledge to address the needs of our time.

The Story


There are still 24 hours left of our campaign and we are still raising funds to reach our STRETCH GOALS!

If we raise $5,000 more than our initial goal, we'll have the funds available to create a library of footage available to the Niu Now community, for them to use as they wish. We have hours and hours of interview footage, with elders sharing their wisdom and knowledge with their community. It is our desire to make these precious clips available to the Niu Now community indefinitely.

If we raise $10,000 more than our initial goal, we will have the funds to return for a final trip for our crew to Hawai'i, in order to film reshoots and pick up shots for the final edit.

If we raise $30,000 more than our initial goal, we will be FULLY FUNDED! That means we can stop worrying about how to pay for the film and put our full attention on MAKING THE FILM!

Kupu ka niu, kupu ke kanaka!

When coconuts grow, humanity flourishes! 

Niu Forever will tell the story of the grassroots Hawaiian movement Niu Now, led by Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer, a Native Hawaiian and Indigenous epistemologist, and Indrajit Kumara Samarasingha Gunasekara, an Indigenous coconut grower and knowledge keeper from Southern Sri Lanka. Their friendship and shared purpose is poised to change the role of niu in contemporary Hawai‘i, as they seek to reestablish niu for (1) cultural rejuvenation: Hawaiian niu and Moana-nui (Oceanic) practices and mo‘olelo (stories); (2) food security: encouraging coconut as a local, sustainably sourced, nutritional, and diverse functional food resource; (3) conservation: ecological systems link coconut with forms of soil rejuvenation, coastal land restoration, moisture retention, and conservation efforts to provide a sustainable pollen source for pollinator service providers.

The film will document their efforts from 2021-2024 to revitalize niu culture in the face of a warming and increasingly arid climate, an invasive beetle that feeds off coconut palms and a tourist industry that values form over function. Their commitment is steadfast, the joy in their work infectious, and they are guided by an ancient and renowned teacher: the kumu niu, the coconut tree.

Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer

Co-Founder, Niu Now

Cultural Advisor for Niu Forever

Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer is dedicated to the role Indigenous epistemology (Philosophy of Knowledge) is playing in world-wide awakening. Aunty Manu is the Director of Kūlana o Kapolei - A Hawaiian Place of Learning - at the University of Hawai’i West O’ahu. She is a member of the Aluli ʻohana and a dedicated voice in the movement to revitalize Native Hawaiian culture and achieve food security through aloha ‘āina work. Her work can be summarized in one sentence: Love land, serve people. Aunty Manu grounds our story in a cultural and spiritual context specific to Hawai’i and fully embodies the values of Niu Now.

Indrajit Kumara Samarasingha Gunasekara

Co-Founder, Niu Now

Co-Producer for Niu Forever

Indrajit Kumara Samarasingha Gunasekara Indrajit holds a deep well of knowledge about the cultivation of coconuts, passed down from his family in his hometown of Matara, Southern Sri Lanka. He shares his expertise readily with Niu Now and is fiercely dedicated to the mission of cataloging and preserving Hawai’i’s great diversity of niu. Indrajit guides us through the day-to-day of what it takes to grow uluniu and live in relationship to the Tree of Life.

The film is called Niu Forever because the movement is just beginning! We hope that this film will be a valuable resource to the community it represents, long after the filmmakers are gone and younger generations continue to eat from the uluniu being planted today. 

Furthermore, we believe in the hope that this movement can provide to people all around the world seeking to respond to food insecurity, cultural suppression, and the many adverse effects of climate change. We hope that Niu Now’s story will inspire you the way it inspires us.

Filming the short doc "Kumu Niu" changed our lives, and began a relationship with Niu Now that has deepened over time. It is an honor to be invited to document their story, and we are committed to telling it with honesty and authenticity. As long as that invitation remains open, we will keep showing up and hitting "record"!

We are also committed to making our footage available to the communities whose stories we are documenting. This is an important time in the emerging history of Hawai'i, and we will not allow that history to be lost to the cutting room floor! We will return interviews with kupuna (elders) and footage documenting niu varieties to the community.

These are the three storylines we need to complete shooting for:

  1. Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) - CRB is an invasive species - deadly to coconut palms - discovered on O'ahu at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in 2013. Its population has exploded in the past 2 years and Niu Now is seeking solutions to protect its trees without injecting them with insecticide, which renders the coconuts inedible. The State's response has not stopped the spread of the beetle. It has since been found on Kauai, Maui and most recently Hawai'i Island.
  2. Safeguarding Wai’anae’s Niu - Poka'i Bay in Wai'anae was once home to a coconut grove that stretched for over a mile, perhaps the first coconuts ever planted in Hawai’i. Wai’anae is still known for having the sweetest coconut water in on O'ahu, but these special varieties are under attack by CRB. Jesse Mikasobe Kealiinohomoku, who was born and raised in Wai'anae, is leading an effort to safeguard these unique niu, which will involve planting Niu Now’s biggest nursery ever: 1,400 nuts. Time is running out.
  3. Niu Giveaway - This year, we have documented as Niu Now collected hundreds of coconuts from around O'ahu, cataloged them, and planted a new nursery at UH West O'ahu in July with the help of over 50 volunteers. In March of 2024, they will complete their annual cycle by giving away healthy seedlings from this nursery for community members to plant for food. And we want to be there!

Even as we continue to shoot, we need to edit! This will both help us better prepare to complete Production AND allow us to apply for post-production grants with a solid Rough Cut of the film.

Let’s finish this film!

We have a goal of $40,000 in 30 days. This will allow us to continue filming our key storylines listed above and will cover our post-production expenses for this phase of the project. Make a contribution today! Seriously, any amount helps. Seed & Spark requires that we hit at least 80% of our fundraising goal within our 30 day timeline in order to receive ANY FUNDS. Your help is needed to reach our fundraising goal!

Not sure how much to donate? Take a look at the incentives in the right hand column and choose from one of those! Or, you can simply make a donation of any amount by clicking "make a pledge" in the top right corner of this page. All pledges go towards cost of production, gear rentals, travel expenses, hiring local crew when possible, post-production, and admin and accounting fees.

What We've Already Accomplished:

  • Received Media Fund Grant from Pacific Islanders in Communications.
  • Made two trips to Molokai to film with the growing Niu Now community.
  • Began filming for the developing story of the battle with Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle.
  • Met and filmed with Niu Now community members around O’ahu who facilitate the collection of coconuts for UH West O’ahu niu nursery.
  • Filmed the planting of a new niu nursery in July.
  • Filmed core interviews with several of the main voices of the film.
  • Created an hour-long assembly edit of what we have filmed so far.

Stretch Goals

  • If we raise $5,000 more than our initial goal, we'll have the funds available to create a library of footage available to the Niu Now community, for them to use as they wish. We have hours and hours of interview footage, with elders sharing their wisdom and knowledge with their community. It is our desire to make these precious clips available to the Niu Now community indefinitely.

  • If we raise $10,000 more than our initial goal, we will have the funds to return for a final trip for our crew to Hawai'i, in order to film reshoots and pick up shots for the final edit.

  • If we raise $30,000 more than our initial goal, we will be FULLY FUNDED! That means we can stop worrying about how to pay for the film and put our full attention on MAKING THE FILM!

Become An Advocate!

Share! In order for us to reach our fundraising goal, we need to reach beyond our personal networks. We can only do this with your help! Send this page to family and friends you think would like to see this film, too. Sharing our fundraiser with a personal message to your friends and family is a DIRECT way you can help spread the word about Niu Forever and the community whose stories we are telling. We are so grateful for your help! Feel free to copy/paste:

Help support Niu Forever, a documentary film that tells the story of communities uniting to protect the genetic diversity of coconut trees on Hawai’i, confront a dangerous invasive species, and heal through their deep reconnection to the land and each other. Find their fundraiser on niuforeverfilm.com and make a pledge to help them reach their goal!


PLEASE, be aware that when you make a pledge, your name will be included in our credits! Hopefully, you think this is cool! But either way IT IS COMPULSORY. This film is intended for broadcast on Public Television, which requires complete transparency of funders <3


Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Lighting & Grip Rentals

Costs $7,000

We've had a ton of camera and audio gear donated to this production, but we still need some lights!


Costs $13,000

It takes people to make a film! Other than the original crew of Kumu Niu we hire everyone locally.


Costs $12,000

This is where the magic happens and story takes shape! This will cover editing hours, edit bay rental and hard drives.


Costs $4,000

The Director and DP need to get to Hawai'i to finish filming. This will cover our flights and lodging for our final production days.


Costs $1,000

We do feed our crew!

Admin & Bookkeeping

Costs $3,000

We are filmmakers, not accountants! Shooting a film for a year makes for a lot of receipts.

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

Alex Cantatore - Producer/Director/Editor

Alex Cantatore is a mission-driven filmmaker committed to environmental, social and spiritual well-being. His 2021 short documentary Kumu Niu, the proof of concept for this project, won the 2002 award for Best Environmental Short Film at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival, the Jackson Wild Media Award for Best Human Planet - Short Form and has been broadcast nationally on PBS. Alex has done extensive documentary film and video work for NGOs to promote forest conservation, sustainable building and investment in youth as the future stewards of our planet. Alex believes in a human-first and intersectional approach to filmmaking, and his documentary style reflects his commitment as a lifelong student in the art of listening. 

Nathan Alexander - Director of Photography

Nathan Alexander is a commercial, narrative and documentary DP and Gaffer with a passion for light and an ardor for stories about people and the world we share. He developed a taste for human-centered story-telling in the world of broadcast news, tagging along to support his father, an Emmy Award-Winning video journalist. Nathan graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA with a BA in Field Audio Recording/Mixing, and got his start working as a local news Editor for Northwest Cable News in Seattle, WA. Recent credits include Gaffer on Jonah Hill’s acclaimed mental health-focused documentary Stutz for Netflix and the award-winning short doc, Kumu Niu.

Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer - Cultural Advisor and a Voice of Niu Now

Manulani Aluli Meyer is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer who grew up on the sands of Mokapu and Kailua beach on the island of O‘ahu. The Aluli ohana is a large and diverse group of scholar-activists dedicated to Hawaiian education, justice, land reclamation, law, health, cultural revitalization, arts education, prison reform, food sovereignty, transformational economics, and music. Manu works in the field of indigenous epistemology and its role in world- wide awakening. Professor Aluli-Meyer obtained her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Harvard (Ed.D. 1998). She is a world-wide keynote speaker, writer, and international evaluator of Indigenous PhDs. Her book: Ho‘oulu: Our Time of Becoming, is in its third printing. Her background is in wilderness education, coaching, and experiential learning and she has been an Instructor for Outward Bound, a coach for Special Olympics, and a cheer-leader for the Hawaiian Charter School movement. Dr. Aluli Meyer has been an Associate Professor of Education at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and spent five years in New Zealand as the lead designer/teacher for He Waka Hiringa, an innovative Masters in Applied Indigenous Knowledge degree at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, the largest Māori university with over 30,000 students. Dr. Aluli-Meyer is currently the Konohiki for Kūlana o Kapolei (A Hawaiian Place of Learning at University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu). 

Indrajit Kamara Samarasingha Gunasekara - Co-Producer and a Voice of Niu Now

Indrajit Gunasekara is native to Southern Sri Lanka and has lived in Hawaii for 20 years. He has an unbroken line of connection (3,000 years) to the use, cultivation and spiritual function of the coconut. His love and knowledge of the niu has activated the Niu Now movement, focusing on the coconut as a vital food resource. He is currently working on developing the Heritage-Based Community Coconut Gene Bank, which seeks to preserve the genetic diversity of niu. In addition to the traditional coconut knowledge he holds, Indrajit is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Tropical Plants and Soil Science from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Vilsoni Hereniko - Executive Producer

Vilsoni Hereniko is an award-winning professor, filmmaker and playwright whose research, teaching, and creative work explore issues related to climate change, indigenous storytelling, art and cultural identity, and the politics of representation in all kinds of media. Hereniko’s first narrative feature film Pear ta Ma ‘On Maf: The Land Has Eyes had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and European premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Selected for competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival and screened at more than thirty international and indigenous film festivals, it won Best Dramatic Feature at the Imaginative Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, Canada. Fiji also nominated it as Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards in 2005. It also had a commercial theater run, was selected for broadcasting nation-wide on PBS, and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Hereniko has also made short narrative films and documentaries and was a story and cultural consultant for Walt Disney’s animated film Moana. His latest film is an animated short set on his home island of Rotuma. It has won five international awards including Best Short at the Berlin Independent Film Festival (2022) and the Los Angeles International Film Festival (2022). 

Justin Pascua - Local Shooter / Co-Editor

Born and raised in Kāneʻohe, Hawaiʻi, Justin Pascua is a recent graduate of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa's School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). While in the SCA program, he has written and directed nine short film projects, four of which winning numerous awards within the program and being accepted to multiple international film festivals. Justin is an aspiring professional film director with the goal of telling visually and emotionally compelling human stories through the universally resonant medium of film to give a different perspective of the world to all audiences.

Current Team