Written by Sonny Ganaden, with Tina Grandinetti / Photographed by John Hook / Publication: FLUX


It’s the middle of a Tuesday, and Christopher Kahunahana orders another round of drinks at the Old Spaghetti Factory overlooking Honolulu’s Kaka‘ako waterfront. It’s a place long-forgotten by those without children, a self-contained universe replete with stained glass, a reconstructed trolley car, creaky wood dating back paneling, and menu items dating to Honolulu’s Frank Fasi administration. A place you think you know but you’ve got it all wrong about. “Brah, this place has cheap beer, AC, and look at the view,” Kahunahana remarks. “I used to work in a film lab right down the street.”

Handling chemicals in the dark room seems like a lifetime ago for Kahunahana. Most of Honolulu has a “Chris” story, and most of them were documented on nightlife blogs during the party renaissance that occurred in the city’s Chinatown over the last decade.

After a childhood in Waimānalo and Kailua, the oldest of three siblings spent nearly a decade in San Francisco running a variety of clubs and galleries, then moved to New York, before making his way home in 2004 to open Nextdoor, an expansive night club on Honolulu’s Hotel Street with vaulting crimson brick walls, murals by visiting urban artists, and for most of its life, no air conditioning. When one co-owner left the business and another passed away in a tragic accident, Kahunahana found himself as the club’s sole owner, hanging on with low funds and lots of friends.

Check the old websites, and you’ll see Kahunahana running a club with liquor out of a backpack and a one-night license; zombie Kahunahana manning the door behind a repurposed church lectern; a beleaguered Kahunahana mopping a slippery dance floor after a famous DJ poured vodka down some club-goer’s hatch. For those who were in the scene, who unconsciously documented it in part because it was fleeting, it was the best city in the world.

And it was Kahunahana’s disarming, self-effacing charm that made much of it happen, like a character out of fiction, or rather, animation.

To see him as a filmmaker—a legitimate one with ambitions to take Hawai‘i’s cinema and Hawai‘i’s story to the world—is new to those who knew him from the parties and the scene.

But there was always another Chris, the guy in the daytime, who spoke quietly of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman, who, when meeting strangers, introduced himself as a filmmaker. Kahunahana made eight films for Showdown in Chinatown, which originally took place at Nextdoor, a competition that gives local creators 24 to 72 hours to shoot and submit a short film based off a common theme. A few times, he won. Most often, he couldn’t make the deadline. “I could tell where I was artistically, even though they mostly sucked,” he says of the shorts. “I could see where my vision was headed and how I could become more refined.”

Chris Kahunahana