Maui Movie Preview

The Maui Film Festival is making a name for itself

By: By Marty Wentzel


Maui Film Festival at Wailea
June 17-21

The Maui Film Festival attracts a large crowd. // (c) Randy Jay Braun/Maui Film Festival
The Maui Film Festival attracts a large crowd.

I’m a movie maniac. So 10 years ago, when I heard about a new film festival in Wailea, Maui, I knew I had to attend. Only about 1,500 people showed up for that first indoor/outdoor affair, but word about its unique selling points spread quickly. Since then, the Maui Film Festival at Wailea has blossomed into a high-profile affair drawing some 20,000 people to its movies, parties, panel discussions and celebrity sightings. It’s a terrific opportunity for clients to enjoy a southwest Maui vacation with built-in entertainment value.

Traditionally timed with the weekend of Father’s Day, the festival not only showcases world premieres and feature films but intriguing documentaries and shorts. Many of the titles chosen for screening emphasize environmental awareness — which is fitting, given the heavenly natural surroundings — as well as creative vision and artistic expression.

Doubling the entertainment value are the screening sites. The crown jewel of the five-day affair is the Celestial Cinema, a spectacular outdoor movie theater on the Wailea Gold and Emerald Golf Course, embraced by views of Mt. Haleakala on one side and the ocean on the other. Each evening at this natural amphitheater, clients can snuggle under the stars while watching a double feature complete with impeccable Dolby Digital sound. Before the show, audiences enjoy traditional chant and hula and a guided tour of the constellations.

Other outdoor locations for movie-watching include the festival’s SandDance Theatre on Wailea Beach, and the rooftop Maui Skydome at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa. In Kahului, the comfortable Castle and McCoy Theaters at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center provide intimate indoor settings for additional screenings.

Each year the Maui Film Festival salutes a small group of industry greats during special ceremonies and public interviews. Last year’s award recipients were actors Pierce Brosnan, Felicity Huffman, Virginia Madsen and Dennis Quaid. In previous years I’ve been fortunate enough to watch and listen to live in-person interviews with the likes of William Hurt, Mike Meyers, Helen Hunt and Claire Danes. The weekend also assembles great thinkers for a series of al fresco filmmaker panels, resulting in stimulating conversation in the shade of banyan trees.

For clients who like to sip, schmooze and savor great food, the Maui Film Festival lays out a great spread of options – when movies aren’t playing, that is. At last year’s opening night twilight reception, for instance, visitors rubbed elbows with industry movers and shakers over the likes of black-and-blue ahi, miso-glazed tiger prawns, vegetable tempura, Deloach wines and organic Hawaii vodka cocktails. The following evening’s Starry Night Moondance featured a seafood bar, finger foods, a grilled vegetable and bread station, rum cocktails and live music. On night number three, the Taste of Chocolate tempted the sweet tooth with such decadence as espresso chocolate souffles and Bailey’s and malted milk shots. On the final afternoon, the celebrated Taste of Wailea – held on manicured lawns overlooking the sunset – rolled out dozens of tasting booths serving dishes by famed island chefs.

Over the years, festival organizers have tweaked and improved the event. Last year it even went solar, using the sun to power its outdoor screens. Festival founder Barry Rivers said he wants the festival to eventually be 100 percent carbon neutral.

Rivaling Sundance and Cannes not only for its movies and activities but its dedication to the Hawaiian sense of place, the Maui Film Festival at Wailea has earned growing respect among cinematic circles around the world. This year’s tenth annual Maui Film Festival at Wailea runs from June 17-21, and you can bet I’ll be there.