Many years ago, recognizing a need in the community, Barry Rivers started a film event at the Maui Arts and Cutural Center called Candlelight Cafe & Cinema. Since then, that Wednesday “weekend in the middle of the week” event has blossomed into a full-fledged, multiple-location festival where the community gathers on the grass under the stars to watch hand-picked films they wouldn’t otherwise get to see. In addition to the carefully curated lineup of films, the festival has grown and evolved to incorporate a variety of engaging events to supplement the moonlight film-watching activity. Since the Festival began 19 years ago, Rivers has directed the much anticipated dining events, a filmmakers panel, and awards for up-and-coming actors. “The genesis of the seed from which all of these ‘Tastes’ grew – that was all film festival,” said Rivers.
To fuel up for film watching, Maui Film Festival offers several opportunities to dine stylishly with other film and fine food lovers. Each event also includes the price of admission to an evening film.
The Taste of Chocolate is on Friday, June 15 from 10pm-Midnight at the Four Seasons Resort. I’m sure you’re already sold simply by the name of the event, but let me tell you more. The event will feature six stations and a buffet of everything cocoa bean. The stations will fuse chocolate flavors with fruity flavors like melted raspberry and strawberry compote alongside a cocktail station, banana souffle station, the liquid nitrogen station and the savory station, which will include risotto and bitter cocoa jelly. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s still the buffet, which will not leave you wanting, featuring a long list of chocolate-infused creations from salted caramel and liliko‘i tartlet to a macaron tower, truffles and lollipops. “It’s like you died and went to heaven when you’ve gone to Taste of Chocolate,” said Rivers. Leave the kiddos at home (but maybe don’t tell them where you are), as guests must be 21 or over to attend.
On Saturday night, the Taste of Wailea will take place from 5-7pm at Wailea Golf Club. The event will feature “the best of the best of Wailea’s best chefs,” according to Rivers, “and you don’t get to stay in Wailea long unless you truly are the best.” Top Wailea restaurants, such as Four Seasons, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Ko, Humble Market Kitchin will come together for a foodie’s paradise. Each restaurant will feature an entire menu of dining extravaganza options from around the globe. Spago will bring the char siu pork belly and matcha milkshake, while Matteo’s Osteria will serve Big Island ahi tuna, gnocchi al gorgonzola. Tommy Bahama will shake things up with a gumbo-idori chicken and Portuguese sausage with okra. Mulligan’s on the Blue will round out the menu with hand-carved corned beef and cajon seared Ahi, while Monkeypod Kitchen will feature a largely-locally produced coconut corn chowder. “You’re talking about ten of the best restaurants on Maui,” enthused Rivers. “They’re all super talented, and don’t shy away from competition and comparison. They pick representative items of the dishes they serve. This event leads right into the Saturday night celestial cinema – you just have to walk down the hill, and you’re there.” I asked Rivers how to choose between ten different full menu offerings. “Be selective, and maybe eat small portions of everything?” he laughed.
This year, the festival will also have four filmmakers panels. “The panels are all great this year,” said Rivers. “They’re in a beautiful location at the Wailea Beach Resort, and held at such a beautiful place – it’s like a grotto – encased in green with light passing through this beautiful area.”
The filmmaker’s panel gives film lovers the opportunity to learn the inside story from the people who have immersed themselves in their subject. “The panel is great for anyone who is potentially interested in making films, but actually is good for anybody who wants to meet an inspirational group of folks. For people who want to be engaged in the world and engage with people who fully engage with their craft. It’s a candid way to get some unfiltered information from the source.”
The panel discussions will range from diamonds to local filmmaking to finding a film’s voice, and give attendees the opportunity to understand the films and their makers in depth. “We have about twenty people on panels that represent fully half of the films. It’s your chance to hear what they have to say, and to meet people who are so engaged in their craft. We always have really smart moderators,” said Rivers (one of which is MauiTime’s own film critic, Barry Wurst).
All panels will be held at the Mei Court Wailea Beach Resort on Saturday, June 16.
PANEL 1: Cinema Calabash: Many Filmmakers. Many Views. (10:30am-11:20am)
PANEL 2: Changing the World One Film at a Time (11:30am-12:20pm)
PANEL 3: Inside KULEANA: The Making of Born and Raised Maui Movie (12:30pm-1:20 pm)
PANEL 4: Hero Shots: Straight Talk from the World of Water (1:30pm-2:20pm)
Rising & Shining Star Awards
Each year, Rivers and his team carefully scours the film world to award up and comers who are on their way to being big stars. “Six or seven years ago now, we started to steer our focus to people who are on the ascension of their careers rather than already A-listers. We consider a lot of people, we see what they’ve done and what they have coming out. The team puts a lot of elbow grease into the decision… We do our best and we’ve been pretty damn good at it,” said Rivers, noting that the awardees from years past have a great track record. “Other than picking the films, this is my favorite part, and we’ve been smart and lucky about who we choose to honor.” They aren’t just looking for a pretty face: “We really look for people and the quality of their work,” said Rivers.
This year, Amber Heard will receive the Shining Star Award on Friday evening. “She’s had a varied, smart career,” said Rivers. Heard, a native of Texas, made her debut in 2004 in the sports drama Friday Night Lights, and later had breakthroughs with Judd Apatow’s stoner comedy Pineapple Express and Zombieland and the horror film The Stepfather. She played Mera in Justice League, a role she will reprise this year in Aquaman.
On Thursday evening, Nick Robinson will receive the Rising Star award. This up-and-coming 23 year old is receiving acclaim for his role as the title character in this year’s Love, Simon. “It was the first really successful mainstream gay teenager coming out film. It had rave reviews and super successful at the box office. He’s not gay, but his brother is, and he nailed the part and was remarkable in it,” said Rivers. Of his work in the film, Vanity Fair wrote, “Robinson is no doubt a charmer, a handsome guy who gives a committed, sensitive performance.” As a child, Robinson was a stage actor and a sitcom star in Melissa & Joey from 2010-2015. In 2015, Robinson starred in Jurassic World, one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
No matter what your flavor is, there is something for you at the Maui Film Festival. “It’s a lot of work by a lot of people that make it as special at it is. This is truly a community effort. The idea is to get people to commune with their community,” said Rivers. “We’re not trying to be competitive, we’re trying to be a beautiful jewel box in the middle of the ocean. You’re really a different person when you leave than when you got there,” said Rivers.
For more info and tickets, visit Mauifilmfestival.com
Top photos courtesy of Maui Film Festival. Photo of Amber Heard courtesy of Flickr/brian-solis