LIHU‘E — Moviegoers saw a fair amount of the Garden Isle on the silver screen in 2011, but industry experts said Monday the Golden Globe-winning “The Descendants,” filmed partly on Kaua‘i, will boost tourism on the island.
Alexander Payne’s drama “The Descendants” was named Best Picture in the Drama category Sunday at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, while its star, George Clooney, snagged a statue for Best Actor in a Drama.
The Hawai‘i-based story inspired by local author Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel was nominated for five Golden Globe awards, including best director (Payne), best screenplay and best supporting actress (Shailene Woodley).
“I thought it was very special that (Payne and producer Jim Burke) acknowledged local culture,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau. “I felt they did a good job portraying it.”
George Clooney portrays Matt King, a land baron who tries to re-connect with his daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident off Waikiki.
King, a descendant of a 19th-century wealthy haole banker and a Hawaiian princess, flies to Kaua‘i to negotiate the sale of his family’s estate.
The cast and crew spent three months filming in Hawai‘i. Kipu Kai, Hanalei Bay, Princeville and Tahiti Nui serve as backdrops for the film.
The release of the film last November marked the fourth film released in 2011 with Kaua‘i in a starring role.
The summer blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” starring Johnny Depp, was filmed on the island, as well as “Just Go With It,” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, and “Soul Surfer,” about North Shore surfer Bethany Hamilton.
“We knew it would be a banner year having four movies turned out,” Kanoho said. “We have been able to tie the films back to tourism.”
On surveys, the bureau asks visitors if any movie or movies influenced their decision to visit Kaua‘i.
As of October 2011, 21 percent of first-time visitors and 17 percent of repeat visitors said yes, citing the films “Soul Surfer,” “Jurassic Park, “Pirates” and “South Pacific,” Kanoho said.
“The Descendants” was not released nationwide at the time of this survey, but Kanoho said the bureau has already received calls from potential visitors wondering where the scenes were filmed.
The bureau plans to track the film’s effect on tourism through 2012, she said.
The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority expects a 3.8 percent increase in visits during the first three months of 2012, and expects Kaua‘i to see a 25.8 percent jump in visitors.
Roberts Hawai‘i has already added a stop at Tahiti Nui, where Clooney’s character shares a drink with his cousin, played by Beau Bridges, as part of its Kaua‘i Movie Tour. Kipu Ranch Adventures offers a three-hour ATV tour, which includes a stop at the top of the mountain where Clooney ponders his family’s estate.
“We’ve had a few inquiries here and there asking if this was the ranch where the scene was filmed,” said Antone Teves, co-owner of Kipu Ranch Adventures. “There’s not been a huge response, but definitely people are talking about it while they’re here.”
When “Pirates” filmed on the ranch, business picked up a little bit, but then “the excitement dies down,” Teves added.
“Clearly, I think the essence of the movie has really captured people’s hearts,” Kanoho said. “Hawaiian music has been lifted up, as well.”
The all-Hawaiian soundtrack to the “The Descendants” is the No. 1 world album on the Billboard charts. “The Descendants” marks the first mainstream American film featuring all Hawaiian music.
“The Descendants” can be seen through Jan. 26 at Kukui Grove Cinema 4 in Lihu‘e. The film might stay longer if attendance is high, Matt Blair, manager of the theater, said.
“Because it was filmed on the island, it’s being received better than it normally would,” Blair said. “You are getting a lot of people seeing it because of word of mouth. … You will definitely recognize the island.”
For show times, call 245-5055.
• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257, or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.