Big Island Film Festival Selects New Location

The independent film venue celebrates fifth anniversary with change of locale.

By: By Marty Wentzel

The Details

Big Island Film Festival

“It’s like having three leading ladies lined up for your new major motion picture.” 

Hollywood screenwriter Ron Osborn, who was saluted at the 2009 Big Island Film Festival, will lead a workshop at this year’s festival. // (C) 2010 Big Island Film Festival

Hollywood screenwriter Ron Osborn, who was saluted at the 2009 Big Island Film Festival, will lead a workshop at this year’s festival. // (C) 2010 Big Island Film Festival

That’s how Big Island Film Festival executive director Leo Sears summed up his event’s move this year to Mauna Lani Resort, home of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, and Shops at Mauna Lani. The festival — a celebration of independent filmmaking with movies, special events, Hawaiian culture and live entertainment — is taking advantage of the resort’s hotel, retail and dining opportunities in order to instill the festivities with a unique sense of place.

Celebrating its fifth year from May 12-16, the tropical celluloid celebration made MovieMaker magazine’s 2009 Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals list. Bringing a slice of Hollywood to the Kohala Coast, it promises to live up to that hype in 2010 as it showcases 50 new narrative films from 13 countries, national celebrities, social gatherings and island music .

Longtime Big Island resident Sears and his wife, Jan — who serves as producer of the event — launched the festival at Waikoloa Beach Resort in 2006.

“We got the idea during the Maui Film Festival in 2004,” said Sears. “We were sitting with Marilyn Killeri — Big Island film commissioner at the time — and asked her, ‘Why don’t we have something like this?’ Marilyn said, ‘Because we need somebody to do it.’ So we did.”

While the Maui festival provided the inspiration, the Big Island celebration stands apart on several levels.

“What the Maui Film Festival does, it does extremely well,” said Sears. “Its focus is more on the hype, the celebrities and the major studios. Many of the films that are shown there will be in the movie theaters within weeks of being screened at the festival."

“The Big Island Film Festival is more about the filmmakers and independent films,” Sears said. “We show some wonderful films that will never make it to the movie theaters, but which find other sources of distribution. It’s more like what Sundance [Film Festival] was when it first started.”

Sears, an actor, a screenwriter, a playwright and a teacher in his own right, has watched the festival expand every year, and he hopes the new location will help continue the growth process.

“Waikoloa Beach Resort was a great starting point,” he said. “We’ll always be grateful for their help. That said, our festival has been growing, and Mauna Lani Resort has been looking for a community event to support. The timing was perfect for us to join forces to expand this experience for Big Island residents and our guests.”

Since 2006, the festival has seen an annual increase in sponsorship as well as patrons, 30 percent of whom are visitors to the island.

“The word of mouth from filmmakers is certainly helpful,” said Sears. “They do a lot of good PR for us.”

This year’s Big Island Film Festival will present a screenwriting workshop with Ron Osborn (“Duckman,” “The West Wing,” “Moonlighting”); celebrity receptions for an actor and a filmmaker; an awards brunch where clients can meet the filmmakers; and the Best of the Fest concert, featuring acclaimed Hawaiian singer/songwriter John Cruz, with a silent auction to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project for America’s veterans.

At the center of it all are the movies. During the day, clients can watch back-to-back screenings of short and feature-length films at The Fairmont Orchid’s indoor Hawaii Amphitheatre. In the evening, they can enjoy movies at two outdoor locations: the Shops at Mauna Lani Stage, and the Mauna Lani’s Hale Hoaloha Pavilion. Better yet, the nightly ohana (family) films are free to guests.

Admission prices for films range from free to $15 per person. Additional events range from $40-$50. An all-inclusive pass for movies, social events and a VIP reception on Wednesday, May 12, runs $330. The Fairmont Orchid and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel are offering special rates for festival attendees.

“It’s wonderful in this economy to offer families something at no charge,” said Sears. “We try to wrap up the whole film festival experience in the spirit of aloha.”