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Maui Film Festival Showcases Stories of Hope and Optimism

Hawaii festival also hosts surfside chats with the stars

Sun, sand and cinema. What better recipe for an island film fest — and no event lives up to that formula as well as the Maui Film Festival, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.

Marking the occasion, the fest is introducing another venue, the Maui Film Festival Seaside Cinema Music Café & Sunset Lounge, located on the grounds of the Grand Wailea Resort.

“It’s a big milestone for us,” says fest founder and director Barry Rivers. “We’ll be showing one film every night, preceded most nights by a tribute to someone in the industry whose work we feel has been exemplary for many years — or someone right out of the gate, as is the case with (honoree) Lupita Nyong’o. There will also be Hawaiian music and plenty of entertainment.”

The fest will host informal chats with honorees Nyong’o, Emma Roberts and Evan Rachel Wood that will be conducted by Variety vice president and executive editor Steven Gaydos.

The fest has come a long way in the past decade and a half. “When we began, we had a hard time even getting the word out to Maui locals,” says Rivers. “Now, we get people coming from all over the world and we have major sponsors like Getty Images and Hawaiian Airlines involved, so we’ve really grown our reputation.”

Rivers takes pride in the festival’s adherence to its original mission statement, which he describes as “presenting compassionate, vision- and life-affirming storytelling. That’s what we do. And within that area, there’s a never-ending, eclectic number of subjects and themes and people, in both narrative and documentary work, that we want to explore.”

Including such uplifting titles as “Keep on Keepin’ On” and “Breath of Life,” this year’s festival will screen 35 features and 18 shorts, largely eschewing “the overwhelming amount of dystopian visions you find out there these days, especially in indie cinema,” says Rivers.

“We looked at hundreds and hundreds of films, and so many were full of fear and paranoia and terrible predictions about the future of this country and the world. All that has its place, but we’re pretty content doing what we do and preserve our original vision and mission statement.”

The fest opener, “Goddess” (pictured), stars Laura Michelle as a housewife whose at-home webcam videos become an overnight viral sensation.

All the films unspool in a setting to die for. Another thing that sets Maui apart from many other film festivals is “the sheer natural beauty” of its setting, stresses Rivers. “We have over 30 micro-climates. You can literally get lost in the jungle. And there’s the spectacular ocean. All that feeds into the tapestry of the festival. How can you watch some dark film in a paradise like this?”

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