Friday, June 15, 2012

Maui Film Festival

Maui Film Festival

Local Guy Seeks Culture


Every year, in the middle of June, as the tourist season starts to build, the Maui Film Festival provides a welcome dose of cinematic culture to an island of residents thirsty for what has become a traditional experience.  Having lived on the island for the last 11 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend at least one film every year, at every one of the many venues.  A few years back, they used to have a free outdoor film screening at night, on the roof of the Marriot hotel.  The Maui Skydome, as it was called, was always free, never too crowded, and they served popcorn and soda, making it an impressive venue to see a film.

The Maui Skydome


However, my favorite place to see a MFF film, along with a few thousand other people, is the Celestial Cinema, which is basically a big drive-in theatre without the cars.  The giant grass pit, usually used as a driving range at the Wailea Golf Course, transforms into a natural amphitheater, strewn about with moviegoers on blankets and low back beach chairs. Discreetly, they sip glasses of contraband wine and eat poke, as the sun sets over the ocean behind them, constantly changing the color of the evening sky. It’s always a memorable experience, even if the movie turns out to be a dud, which rarely happens.  Understandably, the surf films seem to bring out the most raucous crowds, and the jubilant audience can become a mass of positive energy, focused on the screen, immersed in the story, reacting en masse to every wave and wipeout. Some of the films I have seen at Celestial Cinema have been moving dramas, and enlightening documentaries. The effectiveness and power of those cinematic experiences are amplified by the combination of vociferous audience reaction and the uniquely rural outdoor setting. While lying under the starry sky on a blanket on the grass, surrounded by so many others soaking in the culture, try to recognize how fortunate we are, and what a special event this has become.


Celestial Cinema


That being said, it’s not an easy or inexpensive Festival to attend.  The logistics of getting hoards of people into a small area without ample parking necessitates the need for mass transit in the form of shuttle buses.  Parking at the lot near the highway and boarding the crowded shuttle bus, as you carry your chairs and blankets, can be a daunting experience. Add some older folks and children, throw in a fair amount of inebriated young moviegoers, and the scene can get downright awkward.  For many years, I drove my scooter right up to the golf course and tucked it away somewhere safe, but lately, things have changed and the parking police want $10 for the privilege of skipping the bus trip.  Since the actual movie ticket is now $24, the cost can get a little prohibitive, especially for those of us in the service industry, on a limited entertainment budget.  Rarely can I muster up even a friend who wants to spend so much time, and effort, to go see a movie, so I often find myself alone.

This year, after reading through the MFF schedule, I wasn’t excited about the film selection at Celestial Cinema, and wanting to take a break from the madness, I found myself drawn to the Castle Theatre at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului.  I attended the Short Film Showcase (for a reasonable $12), which turned out to be a collection of funny, foreign, and sometimes flighty, films.  The announcement made before the showing, warned that a few of the films contained inappropriate material (a boob, a reference to homosexuality, and some gory battle violence) so that families, and those otherwise over-sensitive souls, can go visit the lobby during those particular shorts.  The directors, and a few stars of several of the films were acknowledged, and they stood and waved to the assembly, garnering polite applause.


Sitting in the first row of the balcony, I noticed that the crowd was generally older and subdued, and that only about a quarter of the seats were filled.  The cavernous auditorium was filled with the dark brown round wooden architecture of an old time theatre and has the feel and smell of history and formality.  The floor was carpeted and clean, and the seats plushly upholstered and comfortable.  Between each seat, affixed to the wood armrest, was a little metal placard with a two-line message from the patron who donated money enough for the lofty recognition. The ceiling, which looks like a large inverted ship, is resplendent and eye-catching in a geometric maze of tile, surrounded by rows of lights.  The view from the balcony is excellent, the big screen in full frontal view, flanked by box seats for the VIPs, which stayed empty and dark. 


 Try this: Have a virtual look around the theater

Castle Theater Audience Panorama 



The first film, ABIOGENESIS, was animated, and meticulous in detail.  It was a visual treat, met with a healthy smattering of applause at its conclusion.  The third film, THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE, was another animation that pulled at the heartstrings, effectively enough to make me wish I had brought a date. Several of the short films used the recurring theme of romantic love and had the audience swooning in their seats, literally awwing each time the credits rolled, which was about every 10 minutes.  SUPERDAD AND PELE was a film from Norway about a boy who loved his dad and enjoyed his company, when his Dad wasn’t working.  It was a particularly effective piece, due to the relevant timing of this Father’s Day weekend, and I could feel the audience shift, pausing to reflect together.  


Boy In The Bubble


The second to last film was a narrative historical Hawaiian reenactment about chiefs battling for power, as a pair of lovers struggled to defend their village families, called: UNTIL THE SUN SETS.  The battle scenes were surprisingly gory, with gaping cut throats and stomachs leaking guts. The ancient Hawaiian weapons were reproduced and used authentically (it seemed to me) in intense BRAVEHEARTlike battle scenes.  An underwater fight scene was very well done, exciting and tense as it played out to the rapt audience. Spoken in Hawaiian and subtitled in English, it seemed genuine, historically accurate, and truly concerned with authenticity.  In short (no pun intended), it exemplified everything the Film Festival probably hoped to achieve.

I left the theatre, feeling entertained, enlightened and energized, glad that I made the effort to quench my thirst for a little cinematic culture on the island.  With three days left in the Festival, I might yet convince myself to get back to Celestial Cinema.  There is a film on Sunday night about Stand Up Paddleboarding that looks interesting, and I am not working that night.  We get so few opportunities like this on Maui, that it is best to seize the moment, get out there, take advantage and catch some good flicks. 



Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Bright Light Night of the Hunger Games

It all happened so fast that I didn't have time to process it all as it occurred, and only now, am I beginning to understand the strangeness of tonight's unsettling events.
My heartbeat has just come back to normal, so I figured that I'd better get this down, so I can remember the details.

It all started when I decided to go see a movie.
The Hunger Games opened tonite, and since I am one of those people who likes to form their own opinion, I chose to see the film before the media (and possibly other people) give anything away.
I hadn't read the book, but I know many who have... the large majority of which are female tweens.
Thinking it would be a Twilightesque teen romance, I went with low expectations.

Without giving anything away myself, let's just say that it was more violent, even graphic at times, then I thought it would be.  Many tense moments drag on, and there is a lot of suspenseful action, that like it or not, demands your attention.
When the movie ended, I wandered out of the theater to where I parked my scooter, while processing the film in my head, trying to decide if I liked it or not.
As I got on my scooter and headed south on the main drag (S. Kihei Road), I started to think about certain issues I had with the plot.  As I approached the traffic light, it turned green at the perfect time and I opened the throttle on my moped picking up speed.  I looked up at the sky and noticed it was a clear night, star-filled and cloudless.
There was an orange light, strangely bright, that caught my attention.  It seemed to be aiming right toward me. I got into the left turn lane, while trying to focus on the light.  After making the turn, I decided that it had to be a helicopter... maybe the coast guard, looking for a lost tourist.
I pulled over to the side and killed the engine on my scooter, quickly pulling it up onto the kickstand.  I wanted to hear the sound of the helicopter, so I could figure out why it was so close and bright.  As I watched the light get even brighter, and flicker like a flame, I popped the storage open on my scooter and reached for my phone.  Then I noticed that it was quiet, there was no sound of a helicopter and now the light was slowly moving off to my left, towards the volcano.

Then, suddenly, the light began to flicker and fade, just as I got my phone to video camera mode.
I looked around, scanning the balconies of the condo across the street, wondering if anyone else had seen the strange light.  Nobody was there, and only the far off sound of traffic was in the distance.
As I was turning my phone off and putting it in the pocket of my hoodie, I noticed something faint falling slowly from the sky, descending slowly in a squarish shape, like a deflated balloon.  I fumbled again for my phone and lost site of it as it dropped behind a condo halfway down the block.
I thought about getting back on my scooter and heading over to where I guessed it would land, thinking that maybe I'd be the first to see it.  It was 1:30am and there weren't many people awake. (I had gone to see the late show, and it was a long movie).

Before I had a chance to act, I noticed another bright orange/yellowish light begin to ascend into the night sky and this time I had my phone ready. By the time I started video, it was already fairly high, and going up fast.
Normally, I'd post the video here, but I just watched it , since I downloaded it minutes after I burst into my cottage.
It is 38 seconds long, but I could barely make out a tiny dot in the night sky, hardly scintillating evidence.
As it happened, the light ascended slowly and gradually faded away.

I looked around and noticed a truck approaching me with it's high-beams on.   I squinted as the pick-up slowed down and came to a stop on the other side of the street.  The driver's window was tinted and closed and I couldn't see the driver, or any passengers.  I waited, thinking that maybe they had seen the light as well, causing them to pull over. I started to wonder what why they had stopped, and if it had anything to do with me, standing alone with my phone in my hand, next to my scooter, peering at the sky.
Nothing happened.
So, I put my phone in my pocket and got on my scooter and quickly drove away.
As I gained speed up the long hill, I was thinking about stopping at the top to get a better view, and possibly, to see more lights.

That's when I noticed the bright lights behind me.  It was a vehicle, coming from where the truck had been, with it's high-beams on, approaching quickly. My mind began to race, still trying to figure out what the sky light was.
Since I knew the road well, I kicked my scooter into fast mode.  The raised speed bumps were more like small, flattened humps, which at high speed can be "jumped," merely by timing it right and lifting yourself off the seat as the bike went up and down.  I did it all the time, in the daytime.
So I gunned it, hopping the three bumps without crashing and I came to the intersection between Kamali'i School and the highway.  I buzzed through as I noticed the lights of the car behind me coming up quick, like they were trying to catch up with me.
By the time I passed the school, less than a minute later, the lights were right behind me, and now, I had noticed, they were flashing blue and white.
I pulled over to the side and once again, popped it up on the kickstand.

The lights were so bright, I could not see anything at all.  A Policeman was approaching me but I stepped towards him to get out of the light. The cop just looked at me and backed up on his heels.
In a gruff voice, I heard him ask me "Why didn't you stop back there?  You know you need to stop there."

"Dude, did you just see those lights in the sky?" I heard myself say to a cop.
He looked at me and I burst out with "No seriously, I'm not drunk or stoned... I just came from a movie."
He was about to say something when I heard myself say "What were those lights in the sky?  They kind of freaked me out."

"Oh." he said, "those are from the Navy, they're mapping."
Quickly he added "next time stop at the intersection."

"Thank you for telling me... I was freaking out, wondering what the lights were... and then, someone was chasing me... and..." I trailed off, hoping to avoid a sobriety test.

The policeman shook his head, walked back to his car and turned off the flashing lights.
He did a u-turn and drove away as I started my scooter and headed home, my heart beating wildly in my chest.

At least I had a story to tell.

Watch this video of a weather balloon getting to 80,00 feet, it'll get your heart pumping: