It’s been many years since I’ve attended the Maui Film Festival, and I’m supremely thankful for the opportunity to check it out this year! So the pressure is on. But honestly, I feel a smidge out-of-practice. And my navigation skills are sub-par. After getting lost by the koi ponds of the Grand Wailea’s immense property (seriously, did it get bigger?), my partner Andrew DeAngelo and I followed a small group of fancy folk clearly heading towards the festival’s Opening Night Party.
When we finally arrived, we heard the sweetly crooning Hawaiian tunes of Timothy Elenki, while marveling at the beachside vista, as wafts of smoked brisket tempted our palates. Noting the always-crucial drink hut serving Ocean Vodka cocktails and wine, we eyeballed banquet tables offering a kaleidoscopic feast for the senses: hamachi poke with watermelon and sesame, Kona crab and lobster rolls, crispy pork belly topped with pickled rhubarb and watermelon radish salad, freshly shucked Pacific oysters with a bright pink dollop of kaffir lime/dragonfruit sorbet, and lots of other deliciousness.
The Taste of Summer is the amuse bouche of the Maui Film Festival experience. It’s meant to be an elegant gathering that welcomes and connects a diverse crowd of curious locals, film industry peeps, Festival regulars and newbie visitors. There’s a palpable excitement, even nervousness, in the air that transitioned fairly quickly into more of a relaxed vibe. With creative L.A. people sometimes that takes a minute. But ultimately this was a Hollywood event, Maui-style.
The real magic happened once we got to the Celestial Cinema on the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course. After we set up our mini-lounge on the ground, Barry Rivers greeted us, and actress Connie Britton—the night’s honoree—dazzled the crowd with her natural charm and grace, in an onsite interview with Rick Chatenever of the Maui News. Then Harriet Witt—an astronomical rockstar, in my opinion—guided us poetically through the historical relevance of the night’s sky as it featured Hokule’a, the star vital to Polynesian navigation powered solely by the human body and mind. A blessing by the enchanting halau Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lei Lehua followed, endowing the crowd with the spirit of aloha.
What makes film festivals special is how they celebrate films projected on screen. In the beginning of cinema, people watched movies in grand theaters on giant screens with large orchestras. It was a big theatrical community event. Sitting outside under the stars of the Celestial Cinema at Maui Film Festival harkens back to those early days, where the massiveness of the screen itself is a work of art.
Few things capture the magic of filmmaking that seeing a flick at the Celestial Cinema provides. Together as moviegoers we felt the rage and catharsis of Salma Hayek’s character in Beatriz At Dinner, and we laughed with and related to the family dramas in Grand Unified Theory. The value of sharing that experience in this setting is immeasurable. It may have been awhile, but I could totally get used to this.