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Maui Film Festival Draws Film Fans and Stars to Hawaii

In an ever-more crowded calendar of summer film festivals, the Maui event stands out for its popularity. It celebrates its 18th anniversary this year and offers both casual fans and ardent cineastes from around the world a compelling mixture of sun, sand and cinema.

“What sets us apart from other film festivals is location, location, location,” says festival founder and director Barry Rivers. “We have the incredible natural beauty of Maui, ranging from mountains to jungle to beaches, and the spectacular ocean. All that serves as a backdrop to the festival. And most of the venues are outside, including our Celestial Cinema at the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course, and our Toes-in-the-Sand Cinema on Wailea Beach at the Four Seasons.”

The latter venue will host this year’s Short Film Showcase. “It’s free,” adds Rivers. “Where else can you sit under the stars on a balmy night on a beautiful beach and watch a great movie for free?”

Rivers says he’s particularly thrilled with this year’s film program. “We’ve got a great collection of indie films, including our opening night dramedy ‘Beatriz at Dinner,’ starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow and Connie Britton, and directed by Miguel Arteta, which has been getting great reviews.”

The festival will close with a diverse slate, including “Holy [un]Holy River,” about India’s Ganges, and “The Trip to Spain,” the third in the popular road trip series featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, again directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Adds Rivers, “We’ll also show some terrific surf films, which people really love out here, including ‘The Big Wave Project — A Band of Brothers.’”

Screening on the second night, and five years in the making, the film was directed by Tim Boynton and features many of the biggest names in the big-wave surfing world.

Also screening is “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” which profiles the local surfing legend, and “Proximity” which features eight of the world’s best surfers.

“We’ve also got a few films that speak to matters of the spirit, and address how people spend their time on the planet, such as ‘Given’ and ‘Heal,’” he says.

Other highlights include various filmmaker panels, Q&A sessions, honoree events and private VIP soirees, as well as open-to-all themed culinary celebrations. “We have three taste events, starting on opening night with a Taste of Summer, and our launch party, with cocktails, dinner and live music. On Friday we do Taste of Chocolate, and on Saturday we do Taste of Wailea, which will feature about 13 local chefs from all the local resorts and hotels.”

While the festival has come a very long way since the early days, Rivers says, it hasn’t been without challenges. “We’re so far from the mainland, it’s a bit like the early space shots – you need double or triple redundancies built in, just in case.”

Pictured above: “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” which profiles the surfing legend who grew up in Hawaii.

MAUII FILM FESTIVAL HONOREES:

Karen Gillan
Rising Star
The Scottish actress’ big breakthrough came in 2009 when she landed the role of Amy Pond in “Doctor Who.” She then snagged the role of Nebula in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and stars in Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” out in December. She has also completed production on her feature film directorial debut, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” which she also wrote and in which she stars.

Freida Pinto
Shining Star
Since arriving on the international scene in 2008’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” the Indian actress has successfully fought typecasting. She’s currently playing a radical activist opposite Idris Elba in Showtime’s limited series “Guerrilla,” set in1970s London and directed by John Ridley. Pinto also stars in Warners Bros.’ “Jungle Book,” out in 2018.

Connie Britton
Navigator Award
The four-time Emmy nominee and star of “Beatriz at Dinner,” which is screening at the Maui fest, is supremely versatile, with credits including “Friday Night Lights,” “Nashville,” “American Horror Story” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Britton recently shot “Land of Steady Habits,” written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, and “Professor Marston & The Wonder Women.”

Pierce Brosnan
Pathfinder
The Irish-born star got his big break in the 1980s TV hit “Remington Steele” before moving into films and showcasing his range in both spy thrillers (“The Fourth Protocol”) and comedies (“Mrs. Doubtfire”). But Brosnan also played the iconic James Bond in four films, and his resume is eclectic: “Dante’s Peak,” “The Matador,” “Mamma Mia!” and his current project, AMC’s “The Son.”

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