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Storyteller: Kolby Akumu Moser

Shifting from TV news journalist to production studio owner, Kolby is telling stories that matter.

Pahala native Kolby Akuma Moser grew up listening to the stories her grandparents told and learning that the wisdom of the elders is the torch that enlightens the path of the keiki (children).  While in high school she recorded an oral history of her grandmother talking story about life in the islands back in the day – the traditional way of sharing history, legends and myths since ancient Hawaiian times.

As the years passed, Kolby lost the precious audio, but she did not lose the lesson – that is the importance of sharing stories of the past that matter before they are lost forever. With the seed planted more than 20 years ago, that lesson resonates in her work today. 

Giving up her then dream job as a TV news journalist in 2007, Kolby set out with her business partner Jay Kaneshiga to film a story about an orphanage in Thailand dedicated to fighting against child trafficking. They knew if it was done right, it had the power to soften hearts, raise awareness and change lives. Not long after that, in 2008, ARIA Studios was born in Oahu.

“In 2012 ARIA Children’s Fund was launched in response to many of our clients and friends expressing a desire to contribute to the plight of children worldwide,” Kolby says.

Since then ARIA Children’s Fund started its own clean water initiative in the Philippines and has partnered with organizations around the globe such as Zoe International which works to protect children who are at risk or in extreme poverty.

In the meantime, she and Jay were busy building their core production team now numbering seven professionals and their roster of clients for still and video lifestyle shoots – weddings, anniversaries and such – as well as developing the commercial side of their business. With a growing business, ARIA Studios relocated to Waimea on Hawaii Island in 2015.

“We are so fortunate to work with some of Hawaii’s most talented photographers and videographers. We shoot together, train together and inspire each other – we consider each other family,” Kolby says. “And today, we are honored to partner with brands, big and small, in faraway places and right here in Hawaii to tell stories in our clients’ voices that drive real results for them.”   

Among those brands ARIA studios have partnered with: Hawaiian Airlines, American Savings Banks, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, University of Hawaii, Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Foodland, Microsoft and Google among others.

Pursuing a concept close to her heart in 2022, Kolby co-directed (with Nainoa Langer) and produced a documentary film entitled, “Hometown Legends”. She set out to feature a handful of respected kupuna (elders) representing different aspects of Hawaiian culture to tell their stories. 

“We asked anybody and everybody here who we should interview. We ended up with an overwhelming list of about 100 individuals with fantastic stories. It was impossible to include them all, so we boiled it down to five who were mentioned over and over again,” she says. 

“Hometown Legends”, released to private audiences in late 2022 and now being entered for consideration by various film festivals, highlights and pays homage to paniolo (cowboys) lawai‘a (fishermen) po‘e ulana (weavers) pahu (drum) carvers and hoe wa‘a, (paddlers). It captures their journeys, adversities overcome, accomplishments and the wisdom they believe is important to pass down to the next generations. 

“Eventually, we hope to have it aired on PBS Hawaii,” she says. 

The kupuna featured in “Hometown Legends” follow in the descriptions below.


Kohala, Pu’uanahulu, Waimea

Robert Sonny Keakealani, Jr., a third-generation cowboy from Pu'uanahulu, grew up speaking 'olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language) with his grandmother while fishing and ranching with his family. Uncle Sonny worked for Pu'uwa'awa'a Ranch and Parker Ranch which took him to every mountain, coast and corner of Hawai‘i Island. He and his daughter, Ku'ulei, talk about aloha 'aina - to know your 'aina (land) intimately and to care for, connect to and protect your places.


Ka’alaea, Keaukaha

John Keoni Aweau Turalde is originally from Kaalaea, O’ahu where he was taught to hunt, fish and eat what he caught. He was the youngest person to participate in the Moloka'i Hoe (6-man outrigger canoe paddle from Moloka‘i to Oahu’s Waikiki finish line)and then became a commercial diver. He ultimately lost the use of his legs in a diving accident. Today, he is a master pahu (drum) maker in Keaukaha, a teacher and keeper of much cultural knowledge. His son Leomana is also interviewed in this segment.



Born and raised in Miloli`i - the last Hawaiian fishing village on Hawai’i Island – Uncle Willy returned home after the Vietnam war to fight to preserve the coastline, the ocean and the traditional fishing practices. He says it is important to know who you are and fight for what you believe is pono (right, proper). His son, Kaimi, who has also moved home to Miloli'i to start a charter school for the kids in their village, is also interviewed. 


Keaukaha, Waimea

From growing up on the ocean in Keaukaha to fighting in the Korean War, being called to the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and starting Kawaihae Canoe Club 50 years ago, there are common themes woven through Uncle Manny's story. In this documentary, he talks about his deep, spiritual connection to the ocean and land, how he overcame hardship and what he wants the next generation to remember moving forward. Uncle Manny’s only daughter Kahea is also interviewed, presenting another interesting perspective.


Kealia, Ke‘ei

Shirley Kauhaihao was raised in Kealia by a family of farmers, commercial fishermen and cowboys. Her grandmother taught her how to weave lauhala (leaf of the hala tree) and she continued that tradition, making lauhala art pieces all her life, while teaching others around the world to do it, too. Aunty Shirley talks about overcoming tragedy when her husband passed away leaving her to raise four young children on her own. She also lost her son and then granddaughter. She is a shining example of strength and grace, always giving back to her community. Among her words of wisdom: the importance of conversation. “It hurts to see people walk into a restaurant these days, sit down and immediately pull out their phones,” she says. She encourages everyone “to put that device down and spend time with those you are with”.  

Beautiful cinematography, scenery and music provide the perfect backdrop for these stories. 

And there is more to come, according to Kolby. Production begins this year on another “Hometown Legends”, this time focusing on kupuna on the island of Molokai. That documentary, she says, will debut in December of this year.

“Looking back over the past 14 years, I realize I have grown to be a true believer that all great leaders need great leaders. I would not be here today without the mentors, business coaches and tribe that helped me navigate this wild journey,” Kolby says. “I am so grateful.”   

And now, she says, one of the things she loves most is mentoring young filmmakers and entrepreneurs and sending them off on their way to a successful career.

It wasn’t until years after starting ARIA Studios that I realized the power of story. I’ve seen lives change as a result of a well-told story.

In our documentary, “Hometown Legends”, five Hawai’i Island kūpuna (elders) share stories of life ‘back in the day’ and how they see it changing now.