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.