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Maui Fest Unspools Eclectic Slate While Neighboring Volcano Erupts in Distance

The Maui Film Festival celebrates its 19th anniversary this year, and, despite taking place in an ever-more crowded calendar of summer film fests, its popularity continues to grow. The event attracts locals and mainlanders alike, and draws both casual fans and ardent cineastes with its unique mixture of sun, sand and life-affirming cinema.

And this time around, in an unexpected turn, the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano on the neighboring Big Island of Hawaii has raised the Maui fest’s profile to new highs.

“People shouldn’t worry,” says fest founder and director Barry Rivers. “That’s 100 miles away and we’re not affected at all.”

Rivers stresses that Maui’s rugged beauty, with its beaches, ocean and backdrop of mountains and jungle, makes it “a very special location — and a lot of the festival is held outdoors.” Venues include the Celestial Cinema at the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course, and the Toes-in-the-Sand Cinema on Wailea Beach at the Four Seasons.

The fest’s mission statement is “Passionately created. Intelligently designed. Endlessly inspiring.” This “reaffirms to people what we’re trying to do with the festival through the choices we’ve made in our programming,” says Rivers.

Opening night kicks off with Aussie indie “Find Your Voice,” starring “Whale Rider” star Keisha Castle-Hughes and Adam Saunders as a Maori rapper. This is followed by “Stay Human,” a documentary about musician Michael Franti. “It’s a pairing that really works well and encapsulates what the festival’s about,” Rivers says.

The festival will close with another double bill: “Serengeti Rules” and “She Is the Ocean.” “ ‘Serengeti’ is one of the most beautiful, visually stunning documentaries I’ve ever seen,” says Rivers. “They shot in the Serengeti but also in the Aleutian Islands, the Pacific Northwest and Peru, and it’s all about our need to preserve the balance of life on Earth. It’s an extremely hopeful film. ‘She Is the Ocean’ is a wonderful documentary about nine women and their relationship to the ocean, and the second part of a trilogy from director Innesse Biohina.”

In between, the fest will present an eclectic program. Highlights include “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” starring Jonah Hill and Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Gus Van Sant; “Ideal Home,” a dramedy starring Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan, directed by Andrew Fleming; “The Bookshop,” starring Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson; and “Dirt Rich,” which Rivers calls “a documentary about healthy soil that blew my mind,”

Also screening: “Living in the Future’s Past,” starring and narrated by Jeff Bridges, which Rivers calls “a beautifully shot documentary about the evolution of culture and technology”; “Leave No Trace”; “Andy Irons”; “Kissed by God”; “Back to Burgundy”; “Off the Menu”; and “Calling All Earthlings,” about UFOs and alien life. 

In addition, the fest will present filmmaker panels, Q&A sessions, honoree events and private VIP soirees, as well as its famed open-to-all themed culinary celebrations: Taste of Summer, Taste of Chocolate and Taste of Wailea.

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