Monday, October 28, 2002

Pierce Brosnan stars in "Evelyn," the festival's closing night screening Nov. 8. Brosnan plays an unemployed father whose three children are sent to an orphanage when their mother abandons the family.

Movie magic

Independent features shine
in the HIFF spotlight

Movie award nominees cover wide range of drama
Free screenings
Salute to the Kamaes
Schedule of highlights

By Tim Ryan

So there was Fran Beaver at the Hawaii International Film Festival a few years ago, a long way from her San Diego home, and she'd just watched a film being analyzed by critic Roger Ebert. She listened as some members of the seminar grilled him.

"It was kind of funny," she said. "Everyone was on his case for some metaphor he made about the film that they didn't think was relevant."


Then as the room emptied, Beaver, 48, found herself standing next to the famously immodest critic. She gave him her own more positive spin on the analysis, to which Ebert readily agreed, "Good point." He'll be back this year to host a seminar on Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane."

The possibility of encounters like Beaver's are one reason film festivals big and small have become an ingrained part of the movie industry.

"There are hundreds of film festivals, and there are more festivals starting up every day it seems," said Chuck Boller, HIFF executive director. But not all festivals are created alike.

"Many of the new film festivals are made for people who want to mingle with celebrities," Boller said. "I guess it validates something for them. But HIFF has never been about parading Hollywood notables, and I don't think it should be. HIFF is about what's on the screen, not who's in the audience."

The 22nd annual Hawaii International Film Festival, which begins Friday, will feature some 200 films, including 135 features, and a special focus on Korean cinema to mark the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States.

"Spotlight on Korea" features 10 major Korean films and four seminars. HIFF's opening night film at the Waikiki 2 is the Korean comedy "YMCA Baseball Team" in its international premiere. (The film opened in Korea Oct. 3.)

The honor comes two years after HIFF awarded its grand prize to Im Kwon-taek's "Chunhyang."

Directed by Kim Hyun-seok, "YMCA Baseball Team" tells the story of Korea's first baseball team, which was formed in 1906 under the backdrop of Japanese imperialism. Hyun-seok and the film's two stars Song Kang-ho and Kim Hye-soo will attend the film festival.

HIFF's closing night's film screening at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at Waikiki 3 is "Evelyn," starring Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies and Stephen Rea. The film, directed by Bruce Beresford, is scheduled to have its commercial opening in December.

The festival will also feature world premieres of the Rell Sunn biographical film "Heart of the Sea" to be shown at the free Waikiki Sunset on the Beach event at 6 p.m. Saturday; local filmmaker Stephanie Castillo's "An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers" at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Blaisdell Concert Hall; and the Agi Orsi and Jay Wilson - producers of this year's well-received independent feature "Dogtown and Z-Boys" - surfing film "The Pipemasters."

Other feature film premieres include Australia's "Black and White" and Mexico's "From Mesmer With Love or Tea For Two."

A sure crowd-pleaser, though it has already opened on the mainland, will be Michael Moore's riveting documentary "Bowling for Columbine."

This year's Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography will be given to Peter Pau, cinematographer for Ang Lee's epic "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," HIFF's opening night film in 2000. Pau will host a seminar analyzing his camera techniques at the Doris Duke at the Academy at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 8.

Japanese art and film critic Donald Richie will host a seminar on Akira Kurosawa's classic, "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail."

HIFF also is hosting the University of Hawaii conference "Myths, Terrorism and Justice: Themes in Pacific and Asian Literature and Film," Nov. 5 to 8.

The international premiere of "YMCA Baseball Team," the story of Korea's first ball club, above, is the opening film in the "Spotlight on Korea" series.

THE FILM FESTIVAL circuit has developed two tiers, each with specific purposes.

A handful of big festivals - such as Sundance, Toronto, New York and Telluride, and the American Film Institute in Los Angeles - are heavy with movie-industry people. Filmmakers submit their movies in hopes they'll be selected to appear in the festival and then, maybe, bought by a studio. Other movies, already with distributors, are shown to build "buzz" for the film. Stars and directors are brought in to meet filmgoers and reporters.

Festivals are now a fact of life for filmmakers, Boller said.

"It's probably the most essential factor beyond getting the film made," he said. "Once the film's made, then what? Someone's got to buy it, see it, love it, then say we can make money by getting people to see it. The only place to do that is festivals."

But that's not the function of every festival. Most are regional, drawing attendees from nearby areas. Glamour may come if a Hollywood star or director or two arrive to talk about their work or to conduct workshops on screenwriting or directing.

At regional festivals, small movies can start a buzz.

"The festivals really serve the purpose as a way to bring independent films into the theaters," Boller said. "They get good reviews, a good buzz, a four-star review in the local paper. It all helps."

Regional festivals also give film fans an early peek at what might arrive later in theaters, as well as a look at movies that will never again be shown in town.

Michael Moore's exploration of gun use in the United States, "Bowling for Columbine," shows Nov. 5 and 9.

"People usually go to movies because critics say go to this movie, go to that movie," Boller said. "You almost never get the chance to go to a movie you've heard nothing about."

But putting on a film festival is not an easy thing to do.

"There are probably too many festivals already," Boller said. "Getting the money to finance HIFF is always a challenge."

HIFF's annual budget including in-kind donations like air travel and accommodations is about $1 million. Kodak increased its donation this year from $15,000 to $20,000 and continued to donate film for HIFF trailers, but the big donor this year is Louis Vuitton, who came up with $95,000. It meant that, for the first time in the festival's two-decade-plus history, a sponsor's name was put above the HIFF title.

Boller, in his second year as executive director, has some personal guidelines when it comes to running HIFF.

He downplays the celebrities and concentrates on the most likely audience: locals. He doesn't make the selections too obscure or highbrow, but says he puts the energy into a solid lineup of entertaining and/or provocative movies that might not otherwise make it to town. This year's Korean spotlight is an interesting challenge since South Korea is barely a blip on the cinematic map.

Boller and other HIFF employees attend major film festivals, looking for appropriate movies to show. A hit at Toronto's festival or in Asia, he figures, is likely to be a hit at HIFF with its Asia-Pacific emphasis.

"Let's forget about the whole celebrity thing and just show good movies," Boller said. "I think we need to serve the community."

In other words, you have to know your place in the world of festivals.

Hawaii International Film festival

Dates: Friday through Nov. 10 on Oahu
Viewing sites: Signature Dole Cannery theaters, the Doris Duke at the Academy, Consolidated's Waikiki 1, 2 and 3 theaters and Blaisdell Concert Hall; one free screening at Sunset on the Beach at Queen's Surf Beach.
Tickets: $10 opening-night gala; $7 general; $6 for children, military, students and seniors 62 and older; $1 discount for matinees before 6 p.m.
Call: 528-4433

Neighbor islands

Dates: Nov. 8 to 10 on Maui, Molokai, Kauai and the Big Island

Kauai: Kauai Community College's Performing Arts Center. Call 808-823-8444

Maui: Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theatre, Maui Community College Ka Lama No. 103 and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua amphitheater. Call 808-573-4242.

Molokai: Kaunakakai School. Call 808-553-3455.

Big Island: University of Hawaii-Hilo Campus Center, Palace Theatre and Keauhou Cinema. Call 808-969-9412 in East Hawaii; 808-322-2323, West Hawaii.

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