Surfside cine sensuality

'Strong and unique,' line-up promised this year.

The film festival circuit’s favorite sun-baked sibling returns as the Maui Film Festival celebrates its 11th year on the island’s Wailea shores from June 16-20. The fest continues its efforts to distinguish itself by, among other things, offering ocean spray during screenings.

Festival founder-director Barry Rivers described the year’s lineup as “strong and unique, as opposed to simply large,” with films including “Cyrus,” a John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill pair-up from reigning mumblecore icons the Duplass Brothers, and New Zealand’s “Boy,” a Michael Jackson-inspired coming-of-age story that’s set to screen on Father’s Day. But no film seems to represent the festival’s ECO virtues as significantly as Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s doc “Home,” which takes a wide-eyed look at the “delicate but crucial” balance of life on our planet.

Taking over the Celestial Cinema for a handful of screenings is the festival’s newest addition, Sensual Cinema, a selection of films Rivers says is designed to “awaken something within you, to make you feel alive.” It’s in this company that Josh Radnor, star of “How I Met Your Mother,” presents his debut as writer-director, “Happythankyoumoreplease,” as does director Katie Aselton with “The Freebie.” Both films are aimed at the “thirtysomethings looking for love.”

As usual, there are movies that speak uniquely to Hawaiian culture. Surfing film auteur Taylor Steele will be on hand to present his latest, “Castles in the Sky.” Also screening is Junichi Suzuki’s “422: Live With Honor, Die With Dignity,” a film tracing the Japanese efforts to assist Allied forces during World War II while simultaneously suffering persecution in the States. Rivers expects these films to receive an impassioned response from the Hawaiian community, which he calls, a “tight group of people, connected via six degrees of separation.”

This year’s honorees, once again, favor leis over bow ties, and include Zac Efron, who receives the Shining Star tribute, as well as Steele, who nabs the Beacon Tribute. Both tributes will be televised for the festival audience on the Celestial Cinema in HD as part of the fest’s new Luminaries Live presentation.

The Maui fest is the only film confab to feature its own astronomer, who gives the proceedings an unusually celestial slant, right down to the festival dates. As fest astronomer Harriet Witt reveals, “We always hold our festival at the only point in our yearly orbit where the most important star in the Hawaiian sky (‘Hokulea’) is overhead at the start of our first film.”

The fest continues its tradition of offsetting energy consumption by powering its screening equipment with photovoltaic solar power units. “A lot of people think we’re kidding about that, but it’s true,” Rivers says.

The theme “Trust the Future” is a charge from the festival that emphasizes our lasting connection to the world and universe we live in.

Says Witt: “We are not the victims of time; we are passengers on a planet. And by looking to the stars as our orbital mile-markers, we trust the future.”

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