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?”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content