A diverse blend of island-style ease and Hollywood power-brokering highlighted the opening reception of the Maui Film Festival Wednesday night on a lawn of the Fairmont Kea Lani. Bluetooth earpieces might be more ubiquitous than aloha shirts in this crowd, but the relaxed atmosphere and stunning setting seemed to facilitate networking.
Following the reception, "Bottle Shock," a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, opened the impressive lineup of films at the outdoor Celestial Cinema on the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course. The heartwarming movie about wine intrigued the approximately 3,000 attendees. "Young @ Heart," a story about a chorus with an average age of 82 that sings songs by the Clash, Coldplay and Sonic Youth, followed.
Festival director Barry Rivers said he expected about 20,000 people to attend the various films and food events, which run through Sunday at multiple venues on Maui.
Bottle Shock," the movie based on a true story about the emergence of California wines on the world scene in 1976, opened the Maui Film Festival Wednesday night, an honor the filmmakers welcomed.
"This is the best location to screen your movie," said director Randy Miller, who participated in the festival two years ago with "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School," starring Marisa Tomei and John Goodman. "You've got the clouds floating overhead, the outdoor movie screen is really bright and the sound is good. You hear about these types of festivals in Europe, but not here. It's pretty cool."
The nostalgic "Bottle Shock" dazzled about 3,000 moviegoers - an eclectic mix of Maui residents carrying their own beach chairs and a Hollywood crowd renting theirs for $5 - at the open-air Celestial Cinema, on a 50-foot wide outdoor movie screen perched on a grassy knoll of the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course.
Miller, who reworked an existing script with his wife and partner, Jody Savin, said the sweeping aerial shots of California's wine country were meant to be viewed in such a setting. "This movie premiered at Sundance in a library on not a great screen," he said. Its appearance on Maui proved a gratifying follow-up before the film goes into wide release in August.
But no matter what the venue, "it's a crowd pleaser," said producer Todd Harris. Indeed, Alan Rickman's stellar performance in the sophisticated yet warm comedy- drama supplements the fascination of delving into the lives of pioneering vintners.
An elegant outdoor reception preceded the screening on the lawn overlooking the ocean at the Fairmont Kea Lani. Producers, directors, writers and film enthusiasts mingled with actors Dennis Quaid and Virginia Madsen over black-bean opah, fried rice with shrimp, sushi and Ocean Vodka rose martinis before shuttles whisked them to the Celestial Cinema up the road.
About 20,000 people will pass through the outdoor movie festival, which runs through Sunday and is in its ninth year at Wailea. Festival director Barry Rivers indicated that finding the right movies proved even more challenging than in years past. "I'm a cinematic archaeologist," he chuckled, "and I conducted a more thorough archaeological dig."
The search for excellent films never ends. But the intensity of the hunt grows exponentially after Sundance in January. In fact, Rivers' annual two-week pilgrimage to Los Angeles turned into six weeks this year.
While he may work hard to select the right films, he never has trouble getting celebrities (though he prefers the word "luminaries") to accept his invitation to attend the event and receive awards for their artistic contributions.
Hawaii state film commissioner Donne Dawson said the festival is a chance to showcase the islands and the Act 88 tax incentives available for films shot here. "It's clearly recognized by the industry as a heavy-hitting festival," she said. "It's bringing the type of film-industry folks that we need to have making movies in Hawaii."
Festival attendee N. Bird Runningwater, associate director of Native American and Indigenous Initiatives at the Sundance Institute, predicts an increasingly bounteous future for the Maui Film Festival. "I'm very interested in the development of Native Hawaiian stories," he said. "I think there are going to be some amazing developments with the intersection of film and the revitalization of the Hawaiian language. I know Hawaii serves as a backdrop for a lot of other projects, but I believe that Hawaii will be presenting more of its own films."
Runningwater focused in particular on tonight's outdoor screening of local filmmaker Brett Wagner's "Chief," about a Samoan chief who flees to Hawaii after the death of his daughter, only to rediscover himself. "Chief" precedes "Captain Abu Raed," the first full-length feature out of Jordan and a much anticipated film in the impressive lineup.
"To be able to have such an intimate look inside that country is awesome," Dawson said of "Abu Raed." "And for it to be paired with our Hawaii Nei 'Chief' ... I couldn't be happier."