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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Many described Leanne Kaʻiulani Ferrer as fun, smart, genuine, kind-hearted and a true champion.

For nearly 30 years, she worked in the film and television industry, creating lasting impressions, including filmmaker Heather Giugni who marveled at Leanne’s ability to be of service to everyone.

“Many, many people have benefitted from her mentorship and her guidance, including her staff,” she said. “She had the gift of being everyone's friend.”

Leanne died Aug. 12 and is survived by her husband Frank and their two children, Kaʻiulani and Keolalaʻi.

“[She] exuded aloha not just through her voice but in all she did. Her small thoughtful gestures coupled with her huge heart made a positive impact on everyone she met,” according to a website curated in her memory.

She began her monumental career as a video student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for KHET, also known as PBS Hawai’i. Before she transferred to the college, she attended the Leeward Community College.

It was at the communications class where she would meet her husband Frank Ferrer. He said she offered him a tissue because he had a runny nose and was constantly sniffling.

They shared a similar sense of humor and married on April Fool’s Day in 1995.

The couple both worked at KHET and later the KHON television station. Leanne’s work at the stations, serving various roles, helped her learn more about the technical side. She later worked in Hollywood productions like “George of the Jungle” and “Escape from Atlantis.” Afterwards, she worked at Pacific Focus, a local production house, as a freelance producer and production coordinator.

She gained many professional and personal friendships at Pacific Focus, particularly with her creative and producing partner Leah Kihara. Together they created their production company, Punk Productions, LLC. 

Leanne and her family. (Photo courtesy of Aloha for Leanne website)

Leanne then worked as a marketing director at Nānākuli Housing/Baseyard Hawaiʻi, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring affordable housing and home ownership, with a focus on Native Hawaiians. 

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In 2008, she started working as a program manager at Pacific Islanders in Communication, a nonprofit media arts organization committed to supporting, advancing and developing Pacific Island media content and talent that results in a deeper understanding of Pacific Island history and culture.

Leanne said her all-time favorite films were “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (Special Editions, uncut), read the organization’s website.

"I can't watch one without the other. The glimpse into the post-apocalyptic future, pending Judgment Day, the T-800 vs. T-1000, dreamy Kyle Reese, Sarah Conner's transformation, great catchphrases, romance, comedy, drama, action, adventure, sci-fi! The entire package, all in two awesome movies! Those are my top desert island downloads!" she said.

Five years later, Leanne became executive director of the organization. She went on to create and executive produce award-winning programming for public and local broadcast.

“She's touched innumerous lives in immeasurable ways as she's supported and contributed to the independent filmmaking world and in day to day life,” Pacific Islanders in Communications said in a statement. “ With Leanne's passing, she leaves behind a legacy that will long-serve to inspire and empower us to continue telling Pacific Islander, and the larger BIPOC community's stories.”

One of her staff members at Pacific Islanders Communications, Kaimikaua​​ Maluhia, said, "Leanne knew how to build people up and bring people together. She had compassion for everyone and knew the importance of working together as our ancestors did."

Giugni, Leanne’s friend, particularly remembers Leanne’s talent of being in a conversation at one moment then seamlessly jumping on stage and giving a speech to a large audience. She said Leanne would jokingly say it was the speech class in high school that made her who she was.

“She’s a dear friend I will miss forever,” Giugni said.

Other endeavors Leanne took part in were being a fellow for the Chief Executive Program of the National Arts Strategies and a juror for the Festival International du Film documentaire Océanien in Tahiti. She was the board president for Hawai‘i Woman in Filmmaking and on the Good Pitch Local - Hawai'i Steering Committee. Additionally, Leanne was a founding member and advisory board member of the Hawaiian Media Makers and the Hawaiʻi Film Foundation at Nuʻumealani. She was a National MultiCultural Alliance member and previously worked for Disney Films and 1013 Integrated.

A celebration of life will be held through in-person and virtual services once community restrictions are lifted. More updates will be available on the website

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Correction: Ferrer's day of death was on Aug. 12, 2021.