A 'fabulous' time for films


POSTED: Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Framed by a distant spotlight on the grass of the Celestial Cinema—the sprawling Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course decked out with a 50-foot movie screen—actress Anna Faris introduced her charming short film entitled “;The Spleenectomy,”; produced and financed by Glamour magazine.

“;I'm having a fabulous time, thanks to 18 mai tais,”; she giggled to the crowd of several thousand lounging in lawn chairs and on blankets. Amusing comments about her fiance “;thrusting his loins at the paparazzi”; (”;Look for that online!”; she added) and gushing compliments about writer-director Kirsten Smith, warmed up the audience before the short and the feature that followed, a sweet comedy with Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi called “;Paper Heart.”;

But the real beauty of the Maui Film Festival, which celebrated its 10th year last week, is that the audience seems open to anything and never needs to be warmed up. With a diverse film selection, unparalleled venues, impressive culinary events and relaxed celebrities, this year, while scaled back a touch, was no different. Special guests Zooey Deschanel shared personal anecdotes on the beach at the SandDance Theater following “;Surf's Up,”; the animated film for which she provides the voice of Lani Aliikai. And later in the festival, Willie Nelson performed a brief song and spoke to the audience before the screening of his latest film, “;One Peace at a Time.”; Both attended to accept awards for their work.

The varied screenings included “;Departures,”; which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year and opened the festival.

“;I think the crowd liked it a great deal,”; said Steve Jarchow, the chairman of Here Media and Regent Entertainment, who admitted that even after multiple viewings, he still has a hard time avoiding a few tears. “;They gave it a strong ovation.”;

THE MOVIES “;were dictated by the sea change in the terrain in which I had to hunt for films this year,”; festival director Barry Rivers said at the Taste of Chocolate party on the grounds of the Four Seasons Resort Maui Friday. Forced to cast a wide net, he ended up with 11 digital screenings at the Celestial Cinema.

“;That's a reflection of the fact that we have more independent work than ever before. If anything, it's more of a true film festival now.”;

Brant Sersen, writer and director of “;Splinterheads,”; also attended the Taste of Chocolate with other filmmakers and guest celebrities Virginia Madsen (”;Sideways,”; “;A Prairie Home Companion”;) and Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott (”;Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood”;).

“;This was the best screening of my film that I've had so far,”; said Sersen, a New York resident who recently participated in the Krakow Film Festival. “;I've played every venue you can possibly imagine, from little libraries to regular theaters, but never under the stars with 3,000 people.

“;This is probably the most people in one sitting that have ever watched my film. And laughter's contagious, and I think the people here are really smart. There are so many different levels of comedy that are in the film, and people were laughing at everything and got everything. It was a perfect crowd. It was by far one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.”;

The irreverent comedy, also starring Rachel Taylor (”;Transformers”;) and Lea Thompson (”;Back to the Future”;), will see limited release across the country beginning in October.

On a table near glasses filled with chocolate cream floating on Grand Marnier, orange juice and crumbled chocolate chip cookies decorated with a dollop of whipped cream, executive producer John Chester talked about the subject of his documentary “;Rock Prophecies.”; It's a film about rock musician photographer Robert Knight, who grew up in Palolo and attended Kaimuki High School, then left Hawaii to “;hang with rock stars because he couldn't be one,”; said Chester. For over 30 years, “;he's been living the Cameron Crowe story more than Cameron Crowe, in my opinion.”;

Chester was drawn to Knight's concern for what musicians like Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn (he took the last photographs of Vaughn before the guitarist was killed in a helicopter crash) thought of him. Unlike most celebrity photographers, Knight was more interested in protecting them than about getting the shot. But there was more to Knight that attracted Chester to the topic.

“;I was fascinated by this insecurity that I couldn't really talk with Robert about, his fear of becoming irrelevant—something we all face at some point in our lives,”; added Chester, who thought the glamour of Knight's profession along with his universal concerns gave the topic broad appeal. “;That's why I made this film; he's still trying to fit in.”;

To counteract these fears, Knight began to explore what he could do differently. So as he interacts with legends Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Slash and others, the film also follows his efforts to nurture the careers of relative newcomers Sick Puppies, a rock band out of Australia, and a wildly talented young guitarist named Tyler Bryant.

During filming, Knight realizes that it “;wasn't so much about what he could take and get from the industry by being there, it was about connecting people,”; noted Chester.

That seems to be exactly what the Maui Film Festival does by allowing independent filmmakers from all over the country to network with Maui residents and visiting film enthusiasts. And it's not bad when it happens over a chocolate martini.