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Maui Film Festival Welcomes Upbeat Movies

Celebrities and film lovers gather at Hawaii event

There are hundreds of film festivals around the world, but Maui has a few touches that make it unique: the setting, the mood and a fest mandate that all entries be life-affirming.

Fest director and founder Barry Rivers says his lineup “is not a Candyland approach to movies. Some of the films offer settings and subject matter that are tough, but ultimately, they have to be transformative and compassionate.”

The fest, running June 3-7 at the Wailea Resort, features 40-plus films and includes “Love & Mercy,” the Brian Wilson biopic; “Mr. Holmes,” with Bill Condon directing Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes; “Learning to Drive,” with Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley; “A Little Chaos,” with Alan Rickman directing Kate Winslet; and an animated version of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” produced by Salma Hayek.

There will also be salutes to Laura Dern, Adam Driver, Colin Farrell and docu Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos. In addition, Scott Eastwood and Teresa Palmer will receive Rising Star awards.

Each film is shown only once during the fest; since some of the schedules overlap, “you have to make your choice and live with it,” Rivers deadpans.

Though the work is frantic for staffers and volunteers, he wants the mood to be relaxed for attendees. He calls it Cirque du Cinema: “it’s like the circus has come to town, with all of this for a few days.”

The ambience is a key attraction. Maui gets a nice industry turnout, even though there is no market and no hustling for deals. Hollywood folks like the setting and the fact that the emphasis is on watching films, not on negotiating. Sometimes people from the industry ask to participate; at other times, they just show up as audience members.

The same is true of tourists. When visitors come to Maui, they usually don’t make moviegoing a priority. But the fest, working with the Hawaii travel bureau, markets to both tourists and locals, to raise awareness. As a result, “we have some audience members who are regulars every year — and then there are people who stumble on us, and become regulars themselves,” says Rivers.

Screenings start in the afternoon, and each night, there is a double bill of new films at the Celestial Cinema, an outdoor venue that can accommodate 2,000 viewers. The facility uses solar energy. Rivers says, it’s “under the stars and powered by the sun.”
On Saturday night, there’s another open-air venue, this one on the beach, dubbed the Toes in the Sand Cinema. The fest also hosts indoor screenings at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Rivers says he has advantages over many other fest directors. There is no quota of films, so he doesn’t have to book anything he’s tepid about; and he doesn’t battle with other festivals for titles. “It’s never about world premieres, it’s about the quality; that’s what drives my programming decisions.”

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