Maui Film Festival: Toes in the Sand, Eyes on the Screen

The Annual Wailea-wide Event Offers A Variety of Venues, Culinary Happenings and Celebs A-Plenty

Maui Film Festival: Toes in the Sand, Eyes on the Screen

Every June, we return home from Maui with a renewed spirit. This, thanks to Barry Rivers and the crew who put on the absolutely stellar Maui Film Festival—a one-of-a-kind experience that allows film buffs to screen big budget (and some not so) movies at venues that include the outdoor Celestial Cinema and SandDance Theater. You heard it: Watch a first-run film with your toes in the sugary Wailea sand. This year the fun starts Wednesday, June 16th and runs through Sunday, June 20.

Unfortunately, every year we return from the festival, we receive countless emails, posts and calls from people who wish they knew more about the festival, how they could have attended and what the likelihood is of meeting Pierce Brosnan (or Willie Nelson, pick your poison). The first two are easy to answer; the last all depends on your timing.

Below is an article we wrote directly following the 2009 Maui Film Festival. It should serve as excellent fodder for those of you who are considering a jaunt to the Valley Isle to bask in some Hollywood glory. To boot, this year's room rates are even lower than last year. Flights are a-plenty, and it's sure to be a great time.

[The following story appeared in the June 30th, 2009 edition of "B on Hawaii"]

The 10th Annual Maui Film Festival at Wailea could have faced shockingly low attendee records this year, thanks to a faltering economy and a collective tightening of the traveling public's purse strings. There could have been no celebrity attendees, a sweltering heat wave, or numerous other obstacles. Certainly these things—and more—careened through festival founder and principal organizer Barry Rivers' head in the months that led up to the event.

Yet, shortly after the sun slipped in to the sea on opening night (Wednedsay, June 17), and the voice of Harriet Witt, the only known film festival astronomer, lulled participants a tad further in their lounge chairs, the last attendee scurried through the gate—and set Maui Film Festival history. Nearly 3,000 people came to the midweek screenings of back-to-back surf films, surpassing any previous attendance records. And it was only the first of five nights.

A few hours later, at the Festival's "Starry Night MoonDance", patrons slugged Stella Artois with Eddie Murphy, while the (slightly) more refined sipped martinis with Tori Spelling (yes, her husband Dean was at her side). Gary Sinise was spotted snacking on snapper at Humuhumunukunukuapua'a's. Tyra Banks was caught perusing the boutiques in the Shops at Wailea; and Anna Faris caused a stir when she strutted in a bikini down Polo Beach. (She was, in fact, so enraptured by the "Maui Magic" and film fest hoopla she and fiance—fellow actor Chris Pratt—tied the knot in a private ceremony on Saturday.) One thing was for sure: There wasn't a shortage of celebrities, Mauians nor magic at this year's festival.

On Thursday, honorary attendee Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Elf, Weeds) accepted the festival's Nova Award in the first-ever "shoes optional" awards presentation (Deschanel opted to go barefoot). Held at the SandDance Theater on Wailea Beach (following a screening of the animated film Surf's Up, in which Deschanel has a role), the actor fielded questions from the crowd, and talked about what separates her from other A-listers.

"I'm not, nor have I ever been, the kind of person that does things, or goes to the places, that gets you in the gossip magazines," Deschanel said. "It's just not my thing. I'm a very private person. And I take specific action to make sure it doesn't happen."

Deschanel, who is currently focusing on both her acting career as well as a determined forray in to songwriting (she's one-half of the band "She and Him"), added that it's rare that she will see a film she is in more than once—if at all—in it's final version.

"Usually I've had enough of seeing myself before all the music and effects and things are put in," she said, adding that an exception would the movie she was in Maui to promote, "500 Days of Summer".

"This one [500 Days] I've seen a few times already. It makes me happy. I loved the script, and it's overall very charming," Deschanel added.

When asked by an audience member who, of anyone she has worked with she'd like to work with in the future, she candidly replied: "Sam Rockwell was very fun to watch. You never know where he's going to go on camera. He was really enjoyable to work with." The pair worked on 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In a private interview with B on Hawaii, Deschanel confided that she prefers working with filmmakers and directors who lean more towards the improvisational spirit.

"I'd rather work with someone that doesn't build a box and then try and have you fit in to it. When you have good actors present, there's a rhythm and feel to the film. In my opinion, some things should be left to the actors," Deschanel said.

We asked her about her songwriting, as her fiance Benjamin Gibbard, front man for Death Cab For Cutie, looked on.

"In film making, you come in to the job after a lot of things have already happened. After you do your little part, a lot of other things have to happen for that film to be complete. But with music, it's something you see from start to finish. You write a song, you work it out, and you play it live—it's really rewarding. I've really come to love and appreciate it," she said.

Naturally, this led us to ask whether or not this might pull her behind the camera, possibly writing or directing a feature film.

"It's a little early to say. But at some point, yes, that's definitely on the radar. But for now, I'm working on my second album with She and Him, and I just got engaged..."

When it was time to wrap up the interview, Deschanel let us go with a signature tell-it-like-is, no Hollywood B.S. response. We asked what the big difference between coming to the Maui Film Festival was from other festivals, like Sundance. Her answer?

"Well, you know. Sundance is really cold."

On Friday evening it was part-time Maui resident Willie Nelson who took the honors. Nelson accepted the Maverick Award in front of 2,500 people at Wailea's Celestial Cinema, and shortly thereafter treated patrons to an impromptu tune that proved at 76 years of age, he hasn't slowed a bit. Nelson was also on hand to promote producer pal Turk Pipkin's documentary, entitled "One Peace at a Time", which also showed at the festival.

"I traveled all over the world, to over 20 countries to make this movie," said Pipkin. "I found the smartest people I could find, some of our most brilliant leaders. And there I was, in Austin, at Willie's other home, interviewing him, and he just stole the movie. I'm very appreciative of him being in the movie and sharing that wisdom with us. It also says a lot about what Austin and Maui gets out of having Willie as one of our own."

In a private interview with Nelson, B on Hawaii asked if he's personally noted a difference his efforts have made—from Farm Aid to his work with Bob King's Pacific Bio-Diesel, and now a recent run of films on sustainability.

"You know, it's amazing, I have. I've been involved in alternative energies and trying to get people to switch over from what we're going all over the world having problems with, to something we can sustain locally. When you look at your breakfast in the morning, most of the things you see on your plate comes from over 1,500 miles away. And that's ridiculous. You could have nice farmers around the area growing things for you, you could go to them. Local sustainable agriculture is what we have to have, by necessity now. And because of the economy, everyone is leaning that way. Everyone is thinking about a garden."

When asked if he was hopeful for the future given the change in leadership in the U.S., Nelson had the following to say: "The desire to have peace in the world is larger than any one individual. God bless anybody who's talking peace, and God help anybody who's not. It's gonna take more than one person to change everything. It's gonna take everybody. We just gotta get there one piece at a time."

Saturday's main event was the culinary gathering on the Wailea Golf Course, the festival's "Taste of Wailea". Attendees snacked on dishes from the finest restaurants in Wailea, and listened to live music as the sun set before heading down the hill to watch Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi's off-beat comedy "Paper Heart". But the buzz wasn't solely on the golf course on Saturday night. Tyra Banks and crew were spotted filming a season finale episode of "America's Next Top Model" on the lawn of the Grand Wailea Resort, where the production company built a sizeable stage and catwalk for contestants and local models. Filming began just after sunset, and went in to the twilight hours, according to a source who was present at the top secret shoot.

Following a performance by Hapa on Sunady evening, the two films shown at the Celestial Cinema were wonderful sports-themed documentaries, both of which will be released this fall. The first, entitled "More Than a Game", told the story of an unlikely and mismatched Ohio basketball team that went on to shock the nation—led by LeBron James. The second film, "Facing Ali", was a look at 10 men who's lives were changed after stepping in to the boxing ring with Muhammed Ali.

Whether it was the buzz of films seen al fresco (either at the Celestial Cinema or SandDance), the lure of fellow A-listers, or just an excuse to be on Maui, there were no shortage of attendees this year. At Thursday evening's party at Mala Wailea, we ran in to last year's actor honoree, Virginia Madsen, who told us she simply couldn't miss the festival after attending last year. As we chatted with Madsen in the center of the room, we looked over and saw Deschanel and Nelson sharing a dinner table, comparing the amount of food from the buffet they were able to squeeze on their plates. Where else but on Maui?

Zooey Deschanel accepted the festival's Nova Award in the first-ever "shoes optional" awards presentation (Deschanel opted to go barefoot), held at the SandDance Theater on Wailea Beach.