If guests want to know whether a Maui Film Festival screening is a world, North American or U.S. premiere, fest founder-director Barry Rivers is not the right person to ask.

“Over all these years of doing the festival, it has been of virtually no interest to me what level of premiere I have, which is very atypical for film festivals,” he says. “What interests me is the quality of the overall program.”

In its 13th year, the Maui Film Festival continues to focus on transformational films, all presented with a strong sense of place. This relaxed alternative to the hype and selling pressures of other fests brings a handful of signature events and venues, plus a favorite sacrificed during the height of the economic downturn.

In addition to the solar-powered outdoor Celestial Cinema at the Wailea golf course and the Castle Theater, the SandDance Theater returns after a brief hiatus. Located on the beach just below the Four Seasons Resort, the toes-in-the-sand venue presents complimentary screenings and doubles as the Seaside Cinema Lounge “town square” during the day.

“It’s our gift to the community,” Rivers says. “When the economy got really right, we couldn’t give away films when people then were not coming to see films that we needed to have them support.”

This year, the fest’s honorees include Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden and the team behind the meditative “Samsara”: Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. Tim Bonython will receive the Beacon Award before a screening of his doc “Immersion,” which Rivers calls one of the best sports movies he has ever seen.

Josh Radnor will be honored with the inaugural Triple Threat Award. The writer-director-actor has lent both of his pics to the fest, “Happythankyoumoreplease” in 2010 and “Liberal Arts” this year. Furthermore, Zac Efron was cast in the latter pic as a result of a relationship struck at the Maui fest.

“We just had a really deep, intense conversation this one night and then hung out a bit as the week wore on,” Radnor says. “The fact that Zac is in my movie is 100% a Maui Film Festival connection.”

The design of the Maui fest allows filmmakers more time to network and simply hang out, Radnor says. He appreciates the sense of ease, particularly in contrast with the constant buzz of the Sundance Film Festival.

“Between Q&As and all the press you’re doing (at Sundance), you really don’t have much time to catch your breath,” Radnor says. But at Maui two years ago, “I got to go and support other people’s movies, and other people got to see my movie, people who had been at Sundance and didn’t get to see it.”

The fest was designed to be restorative, Rivers says. With the exception of a few afternoon screenings at the Castle Theater, unspoolings are scheduled in the evening to optimize atmosphere and allow guests to surf and enjoy themselves during the day.

“Our hope is that they leave truly energized by the experience, ready for the work ahead in their particular worlds, rather than exhausted and wondering why they didn’t get a vacation while they were here,” Rivers says.


Celestial Cinema

“The Intouchables”
Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
With: Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot
A runaway hit in France, “The Intouchables” explores the relationship of a disabled widower (Cluzet) and his Senegalese caretaker (Sy). The two strike an unexpected friendship and share a host of misadventures.

“People Like Us”
Director: Alex Kurtzman
With: Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde
This year’s Navigator Award recipient Banks stars as a single mother who meets an estranged brother (Pine) with news of their father’s death and a $150,000 inheritance. Appropriately set for Father’s Day, film also co-stars Wilde, a 2011 Maui Film Festival honoree.

Castle Theater

“One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das”
Director: Jeremy Frindel
The doc focuses on the American singer Krishna Das, a performer of Hindu-style sacred songs. Pic details the transformational journey of Long Island musician Jeffrey Kagel into an influential kirtan artist. Ram Dass, an influence of the subject and a Maui resident, will introduce the film.

“Side by Side”
Director: Chris Kenneally
With: Keanu Reeves, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese
Produced by Reeves and Justin Szlasa, doc examines the effect of digital technology on film with the input of helmers, plus lensers and other below-the-line talent. Some resist the change while others, like Cameron, embrace the possibilities.