Members of the Correa Clan, one of the featured hunting families in the History series “American Jungle,” are seen in this photograph. RELATIVITY MEDIA LLC/SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
T’Jaye Forsythe wanted to showcase a Hawaii that’s past the beach and waterfall.
Forsythe, a Big Island hunter, has been filming hunts here since 2009, posting the videos first on YouTube, then on a website he created to showcase hunting, rustyboar.com.
“I wanted to (show) the viewer, what is beyond the beautiful backdrop in Hawaii,” Forsythe said this week, a few days before the reality TV show he pitched, “American Jungle,” was set to premiere on the History channel. “Is there a subculture? Are they hunting for trophies, for survival, to put food on the table?”
Most of the hunters he knows here are in the woods and on the mountain looking to stock their freezers. A big jaw or other trophy that comes from the hunt is a bonus, but not the driving factor for hunters here, Forsythe said.
People here “eat life to sustain life,” he added.
A Waiakea Uka resident, Forsythe, 39, grew up in Laie and moved to the Big Island in 1989. He wanted to feature the variety of hunting opportunities here to highlight the diversity of the island and its hunting landscapes. In West Hawaii, the crew and hunters tracked mouflon sheep and pigs in South Kona. They also filmed in Milolii, South Point, Hamakua and Volcano.
They were even able to film a feral cattle hunt. That was particularly wild, Forsythe said. He wanted to be able to show that kind of hunting, but finding the right hunters, who track the animals with dogs and hunt with spears, was difficult.
Casting was one of the issues that slowed moving from concept to finished product, Forsythe said.
“I had to put together the cast that could fit the script,” he said, adding the producers and network had a particular narrative they were looking for. He had to fight against that, too, pointing out that hunting here has its own inherent drama, such as conflicts over use of very old hunting trails. Some families claim rights to certain trails, and another hunting group using those trails is tantamount to going into someone else’s house and stealing food from the refrigerator, Forsythe said.
Producers weren’t interested in some of the other big issues that hunters here face, such as limited access to state and federal lands and court-mandated aerial hunts of feral ungulates on Mauna Kea. Those topics were too political, Forsythe said, although he did suggest incorporating them into the show.
Once the cast and concept were set, filming wasn’t easy, either, Forsythe said.
“We were wet, muddy and getting eaten by mosquitoes,” he said, adding those are normal conditions for hunters, but not camera crews. “It was a hard shoot, but we made it happen.”
Crews spent long days in the jungle, and a few camera operators quit because of the conditions. Forsythe said the producers and camera crew were mostly from the mainland, but he was able to get the production staff to hire local production assistants familiar with the land and local hunters.
The years between first pitching the show idea and seeing it air this weekend were busy, Forsythe said. He works a full-time job for the county, was teaching Zumba classes in the evening and spent hours on the phone on weekends and vacation days refining the show.
“If you put your faith and trust and dreams and keep fighting for it, these things can happen,” he said.
He credited the featured hunters and their families — shown as clans in History Channel promotion materials — in helping the show happen. The finished product is a collaborative effort, he said.
American Jungle airs Sunday on the History channel. Check listings for exact times.