Among the world’s film festivals, Maui is unique because of its setting, scheduling and, most important, its philosophy.
Fest director and founder Barry Rivers only books films that offer positive messages and insights. “There’s enough darkness surrounding us all,” he tells Variety. “There is acrimony in the culture and among nations, and people are always being confronted with problems but no easy solutions. So we want to show the world as it might be.”
It’s not a lineup of Candyland films, he stresses; some tackle subjects that are challenging and gritty, but the endings are uplifting and transformative. He says they are films “at the intersection of smart and heart.”
This year’s fest will offer about 30 features and 20 shorts (out of 1,000 submissions), but unlike many sprocket operas, each film will screen only once in its five-day stretch.
Many of the screenings will occur at the Celestial Cinema, an outdoor venue where 2,000 guests sit on the grass. Attire during the entire festival is “resort wear,” meaning nice but not formal. There are no black-tie events in Maui.
Rivers says he has a luxury when booking films: He’s not competing with other festivals for world premieres, so he is free to book movies that he thinks the audiences will like. There is an industry presence, but no market. “For me, it’s just about assembling the best films possible.”
Every year, the fest salutes stars, with the 2016 lineup including Bryan Cranston and Viola Davis.
Every year the fest honors actors and filmmakers, with each salute including a Q&A and a presentation of the award. The recipients of the Navigator Award for distinguished work are Cranston and Davis. Michael B. Jordan, star of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” will be handed the Rainmaker Award, given to “film artists who profoundly affect their projects, both on and off screen.” Kelly Rohrbach and Wyatt Russell will be honored with Rising Star Awards. Rohrbach will appear in Paramount’s bigscreen “Baywatch”; Russell stars in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some.”
The fest will offer “Captain Fantastic,” the Matt Ross-directed drama that stars Viggo Mortensen as the unorthodox patriarch of six kids. The event will take place at the Celestial Cinema, aka the Wailea Golf Course Amphitheatre. Other screenings will be held at various sites, including the Castle Theatre in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
June 18 offers a free community event known as the Toes-in-the-Sand screening. It’s a showcase for Hawaii filmmakers and this year spotlights four: “God Is a Dog,” “The Roots of ‘Ulu,” “Aina: That Which Feeds Us” and “Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max.” The event takes place at the Wailea Beach by the Four Seasons. “It’s our gift to Maui,” Rivers says. “Every year the quality of Hawaiian filmmaking has increased.”
There are also under-12 free screenings:
June 16 at the Celestial Cinema: “Mad Dogs” followed by “Saltwater Buddha” at 8 p.m., and “It Ain’t Pretty” followed by “One Way: A Journey to This Moment” at 10 p.m.
At 1 p.m. June 18 at the indoor Castle Theater: “Boy in the World”
June 19 at the Celestial will be New Zealand’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” preceded by “Live Monumental” at 8 p.m. Then at 10 p.m. are “Gerry Lopez: The More Things Change,” followed by “Chapter One” and “Kanaloa: Voyage Into the Depths.”
In addition to the screenings, there are four main social events, and all include a double feature.
From 5 to 7 p.m. June 15 is the Taste of Summer opening-night party at Molokini Gardens. The evening features samples of local specialties ranging from an oyster bar to taco station and Kona crab cakes to coconut cakes.
From 9 to 11 p.m. June 17 will be Taste of Chocolate at the Four Seasons. Offerings include savory or sweet pizzas, with toppings such as beef, short ribs, Nutella, or M&Ms. Keeping with the theme, there will be chocolate fountains, truffles, and chocolate panacotta.
From 4:30 to 7 p.m. June 18 is Taste of Wailea at the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course. The event is considered the crown jewel of the festival, with about a dozen restaurants participating. They offer everything from ravioli to roasted pork belly, and novelties such as passion fruit ceviche and tomato-watermelon gazpacho.
There is also a gala, which is a VIP soiree and celebration of honorees, from 10 p.m. to midnight June 16 at Spago.
(Pictured above: “Captain Fantastic,” starring Viggo Mortensen, will screen in Maui’s Celestial Cinema)