Nature tops marquee at Hawaiian film festival

Marking its 10th anniversary, the Maui Film Festival continues to celebrate cinema “from the intersection of smart and heart,” says festival director-founder Barry Rivers. With open-air, beachfront screenings, the festival once again ditches traditional Hollywood devices like black ties and red carpets for flip-flops and grass skirts, all for the sake of a more intimate experience.

Here’s a fest that’s so cosmic it even has its own inhouse astronomer, Harriet Witt, who gives new life to the term “stargazing.” Witt strives to remind auds that the celebrities aren’t the only celestial bodies at the festival, and her ethereal introductions to films outdoors offers a healthy dose of metaphysics.

“When you in the audience are reminded that the earth beneath you is a planet, and when you see in the ‘passing’ star scenery evidence that your planet is transporting you through space, you recognize that you live on a heavenly body. You feel like a heavenly being. You are a heavenly being,” the MFF astronomer says.

The fest’s lineup offers standard Hollywood fare, like the Michael Cera romantic faux-documentary “Paper Heart” and “500 Days of Summer,” which places Joseph Gordon-Levitt opposite the fest’s Nova Award “luminary” Zooey Deschanel, who will receive a “toes-in-the-sand tribute.”

Willie Nelson is also set to be cited, with the festival’s Maverick Award. Following in the footsteps of previous honorees like the Dalai Lama and Pierce Brosnan, Nelson is being celebrated for having a “willingness to speak his mind and the backbone to withstand the heat from those who take issue with his vigorous expression of our collective constitutional right to the freedom of artistic and political expression.”

As in years past, the festival’s selection includes smaller cinematic endeavors that focus on human triumph. There’s street artist Michael Masley biopic “Art Officially Favored” and “Facing Ali,” wherein former rivals of Muhammad Ali sound off on the legendary boxing icon.

The festival wouldn’t be complete without a smattering of surf and ecocentric cinema, including the surfing docu “Highwater” and “The Cove,” which focuses on the brutal capture of dolphins in Japan.

The festival’s interest in Mother Nature doesn’t end with the films. The fest’s open-air screens are powered by solar energy collected during the day, ensuring screenings “under the stars, lit by the moon and powered by the sun.”

Though a popular event among Maui locals, the fest is growing as an international destination for cineastes and industry insiders. Unlike a number of see-and-be-seen festivals, organizers of MFF make a concerted effort to give members of the industry their space, and Rivers promises, “When people find out who might be here, they don’t find out from us.”

But festgoers can’t live by film alone. Cinema aside, the festival offers Taste of Wailea, a luxurious one-night diversion that allows guests to sample some of the best of the famously decadent Wailea cuisine. Attendees of the festival are invited to sip wine while they stroll atop the summit of the Wailea Gold and Emerald Golf Course and select pupus of their liking. Festgoers “cruise through the various locations, watching the chefs prepare their specialties while they wait, enjoy the music and mingle with the celebs,” says Kathleen Costello of the Wailea Community Assn.

After indulging in menu items such as Ahi Saltimbocca and Crispy Hawaiian Sea Bass a la Plancha prepared by renowned chefs Corey Waite and Clinton Arakawa, it’s only a short stroll to the fest’s expansive open-air Celestial Cinema for the evening’s screenings.

“Departures” opens the fest on Wednesday, and the Lebron James biographical sport documentary “More Than a Game” closes it on Sunday.

TIP SHEET

When: Wednesday-Sunday

Where: Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Wailea

Web: mauifilmfestival.com

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