Monday, June 20, 2005


Funny man Mike Meyers mugged for the cameras, surrounded by the Maui Taiko Drummers, who performed at an exclusive soiree at entertainment entrepreneur Shep Gordon's beachfront home this weekend. Meyers was among a stellar lineup of stars who attended this year's Maui Film Festival.

An embarrassment
of riches

All the starshine at the Maui Film
Festival draws many attendees away
from the movies

Wailea, Maui » Actor William H. Macy is chest-deep in the Four Seasons Wailea pool, oblivious to hotel guests strolling the deck.

Wearing a black Maui Film Festival cap and reading glasses, he marches slowly, first in circles then back and forth, while concentrating on a movie script held high out of the water.

At adjacent Wailea beach, a wide-smiling Mike Myers stands in the wind-whipped shore break, shifting his gaze between the beach crowd and Haleakala, before plunging into a tiny swell and riding it to shore.

A more unlikely scene unfolds at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, where actors Woody Harrelson, Owen and Luke Wilson, and their director-brother Andrew spend several hours playing croquet, drinking beer, laughing and waving to fans beneath a scorching sun.

The Wilsons were due to receive the film festival's first-ever Shooting Star Award for their film "The Wendell Baker Story." Macy would receive the inaugural Rainmaker Award, and Myers, the event's most prestigious honor, the Silversword.

"This place, Maui, and this festival is magical," said Macy, who attended the five-day event with wife Felicity Huffman, one of the stars of the ABC hit "Desperate Housewives."

"Certainly for us attending, Maui had a lot to do with it," Macy said. "But I can tell you honestly that Felicity and I looked at the films being presented here, and it was evident this event was really about the films, not star quotient."

Not completely. This year's festival had more name actors than ever, including Emmy and Oscar winner Helen Hunt and rising star Jake Gyllenhaal. That name recognition drew record crowds. Gyllenhaal received the Shining Star Award; Hunt, the Stella, for her influence on the status of women in the industry.

Attracting celebrities doesn't come easy, even when they are given awards plus five free days at the luxurious Four Seasons.

Luke, left, and Owen Wilson, along with their brother, Andrew, won the Shooting Star Award for their film, "The Wendell Baker Story."

The Wilson brothers attended because "The Wendell Baker Story" was being screened at the outdoor Celestial Cinema. Though Luke and Owen Wilson have many writing and acting credits, older brother Andrew -- who receives co-directing credit for "Wendell" -- is a virtual unknown. Their Shooting Star Award honored "their ever-entertaining collective body of work and their inspired co-creation of the 'Wendell' film."

Andrew's inclusion was a stretch at best, but to get Luke and Owen, the festival had to include him in the tribute package.

Attracting Hunt and Myers was easier, as both are frequent Maui visitors. Also, like Macy, Luke Wilson, Gyllenhaal and waterman Laird Hamilton, another awardee, all are signed with Creative Artists Agency. Thus, another package deal.

The behind-the-scenes politics for landing celebrities is part of any star-studded event and made little difference to the more than 20,000 who attended the festival and were treated to about 65 films, six major parties and food events, and six actor tributes.

Attendance for the first two days at the Celestial Cinema and the three Maui Arts & Cultural Center theaters was more than 7,500. Final totals are still being counted.

But the parties and increased number of awards ceremonies drew many away from the films. "I thought we would be seeing a lot of films," said Jeff Banks, of Newport Beach, Calif., who attended with his wife, Marie. "We saw the first night's film at the Celestial Cinema, but after that, Marie and I did all the tributes and parties and food events."

Marie, "a huge fan" of Owen Wilson, said that tribute was a necessity. Daughter Chelsea, 17, loves Gyllenhaal, so Mom and Dad took her to that ceremony, then hung around for Macy's award.

"We can always get these films on DVD later, but the parties are a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Jeff said.

Actor William H. Macy attended with his wife, "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman. Macy was given the Rainmaker Award for his positive impact on "the creative dynamics of every project he touches."

For Grace Merrick of San Francisco and pal Jennifer Gomez of nearby Oakland, the festival was all about the food and celebrity-watching.

"We stayed at the Four Seasons because we knew that's where the festival's honorees stay," Merrick said. "We would see them in the pool or on the beach, then at the tributes, then the parties.

"The only problem is we each gained a few pounds."

That's to be expected. Menus included such exotic items as Spago's sashimi pizza with wasabi cream, fresh hapuupuu fish soufflé with tamarind-lime marmalade, foie gras sausage with plum marmalade, and quail saltimbocca with sage and toasted pine nuts. Not to mention fine wines, exotic martinis -- Bombay Sapphire is the official spirit of the Maui Film Festival -- and the decadence of A Taste of Chocolate.

"The only exercise I've gotten in five days is walking the buffet line," said Chad Thomas, of Las Vegas. "I'm hoping to see Laird Hamilton's surfing film. It'll be the only one I see."

One problem that festival creator/director Barry Rivers will address next year is "the near impossibility" of seeing all the films and making all the special events, because the times often overlapped.

"We know that the festival attracts a lot of foodies who are just mildly interested in film," Rivers said. "But next year, we're going to try to adjust the times of events and some films so you can do at least one tribute and see a major film on the same night.

"Some nights, we won't be able to avoid that, but I think there's wiggle room for tweaking so audiences can get a fuller experience."

While the Maui festival continues to attract big spenders in great number, it has not become a hub for studio and distribution deals, as have similar events, such as the Sundance Film Festival.

But Rivers insists the Maui Film Festival was never meant to be "a place to do deals."

"There are some studio executives who attend every year, but they stay under the radar and often don't even let us know they're here," he said.

If not explicit deal-making, some discussions did take place. Honolulu attorneys Rick Galindez and Roy Tjioe of Goodsill, Anderson Quinn & Stifel attended this year in part to meet with unnamed studio and network executives. Galindez is a legal expert on the state's Act 221 investment credit legislation and has brokered many deals.

Sharing the spotlight on Maui this weekend were Helen Hunt and Jake Gyllenhaal. Hunt was given the Stella Award for her influence on the status of women in the industry.

Donne Dawson, the state's film commissioner, describes the Wailea setting and the Celestial Cinema venue as perfect to showcase Hawaii and "interface" with Hollywood studio executives.

"The Celestial Cinema is the best indoor or outdoor film venue anywhere," said Dawson, who attends annually. "No one, from film lover to a studio executive, leaves the Celestial Cinema unaffected by its beauty, perfect sound and projection."

The Maui Film Festival is the Four Seasons' top tourist draw. About 30 percent of the Wailea resort's rooms go to event attendees.

The festival can be credited with influencing a film's first theatrical release, albeit in a small way. The indie "Waiting to Inhale" by Jed Riffe -- about the medical marijuana controversy -- has been signed to open at Hilo's Palace Theater for a week's run next month.

"This is why (independent) filmmakers go to festivals," said an excited Riffe, of Berkeley, Calif. "It's why we came to Maui. We're leaving with very good feelings."

Luke Wilson said the Maui festival is one of the few film events he's ever heard of. "It's just going to get better," he said. "I know personally that Hollywood industry talk about this festival. I liked what I heard: It's a festival about good films, not about the hustle. And Maui makes you relax."

Gyllenhaal was so relaxed by festival's end that when he saw a few dozen Four Season employees lined up in the foyer to honor an outgoing general manager, he joined in.

The Maui vibe was shared by Myers.

"When I was 8, I stood in Lake Ontario and looked across this huge body of water and said, 'Someday I want to be an actor, to make people laugh,'" Myers said just before accepting his Silversword award. "And today, when I was standing in the water at Wailea (beach), I looked up at (Haleakala) crater and the blue sky and the palm trees and remembered never imagining as a kid even being on Maui, being an actor and winning an award.

"I get chicken skin saying this, but dreams do come true."

Jake Gyllenhaal won the Shining Star Award as an actor "whose magnetic presence on screen generates both heat and light."

William H. Macy was filmed during an interview at the Maui Film Festival.

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