Maui Connections

Maui filmmakers Dr. Tom Vendetti and Bob Stone are in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this week, getting ready for the third annual Angkor Wat International Film Festival.

Tom’s wife, Nancy, Sam Kong, Dr. Gary Greenberg, Doug Schenk and Maui high school filmmaker Lee Ah Lee make up the Maui delegation putting on this unique celebration of cinema. It runs Thursday to Sunday in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is a charming French colonial city just outside the 1,000-year-old ruins of the monumental, mysterious Angkor temple complexes sprawling over 390 square miles in the steamy Cambodian jungle.

Gnarly, centuries-old tree roots intertwine seductively with voluptuous temple dancers called “Apsara” on acres of stonewalls sculpted with epic scenes from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Whether it was Buddhist or Hindu depends on which religion controlled the temples in any given century. Monkeys patrol some of the ruins, looking a bit like zen monks themselves.

The magnificent Angkor monuments are World Heritage Sites of timeless faith, and launch pads for new adventures, real and imaginary. At the movies, the silent stonewalls provided sets for Angelina Jolie’s 2001 “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” and the signature epiphany of the visionary documentary “Baraka.”

Having worked on various Vendetti Productions film projects myself, I was fortunate to attend the first Angkor Wat International Film Festival three years ago. Hosted by the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort in Siem Reap, all the screenings are free, drawing families of Cambodians into the luxurious Sofitel ballrooms for possibly the first movie they’ve ever seen in their lives. There is no movie theater in Siem Reap.

Showing many of the movies in 3-D this year, Tom says, “is the talk of the town.” He’s hoping the images don’t scare the attendees out of their seats.

New this year is a 3-D slide show by Maui’s Dr. Greenberg, a pioneer in microscopic photography. Gary’s images of single grains of sand – as dazzling and complex as priceless jewels – have fascinated Maui audiences, and reached global audiences via his book, “A Grain of Sand,” and his TEDxMaui presentation, still a popular hit on YouTube.

This is the second festival for Maui Gold executive Schenk. Doug’s personal efforts with his wife, Cindy, have created educational opportunities for thousands of Cambodian children. Last year festival co-creator Stone, working with Diana Gross of Global Citizen Media Project, put video cameras into youngsters’ hands for the “Tell Your Own Story” project, then showed the films to their proud, astonished families.

Lee Ah Lee will add the voice of Maui’s burgeoning young filmmakers. She will show “Nifo Oti,” a three-minute documentary she directed with Alyssa Ferrer and Roselyn Domingo that first aired on KHET’s “Hiko No” series.

In the mid-’90s, Vendetti – who is also a psychologist and mental health administrator on Maui – was part of a team treating patient Khong from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Their treatment plan involved bringing Sam back to his Cambodian homeland he had been forced to flee almost 30 years earlier. Tom recorded the experience in a documentary film, “Years of Darkness”; the trip also laid the foundation for what would become AWIFF.

AWIFF uses movies as a bridge between our two lands. It reinforces bonds that have been experienced by a handful of Maui folks like Tim and Kyle Ellison and globe-hopping Mira Allen, who have been touched by the amazing Cambodian people. Terrorized and murdered in the millions by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime a half-century ago, they have been further victimized by poverty, sweat shop economics, sexual exploitation and political uncertainties ever since. But there’s a resilience in their spirit, and a sweet innocence in their demeanor that makes visitors who encounter it want to help.

AWIFF’s mission onscreen is showing films dedicated to cultural and environmental preservation. But it also makes the point that many of us learned on our first visit to Disneyland:

It’s a small world. After all.

After the festival, Tom, Bob and I will be putting the finishing touches on our next film, “The Quietest Place on Earth.” The title refers to Haleakala Crater, and stems from research by environmental sound engineer Gordon Hempton, who travels the words with his sophisticated sound sensors, searching for silence.

Cultural adviser Clifford Nae’ole is one of many well-known Mauians in the film contemplating the silence of our mountain, and he’s making arrangements to preview it as part of this year’s Celebration of the Arts, returning to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua from May 9 through 11. Our film will have its gala benefit premiere at the MACC in November.

Everyone knows being quiet is good for body and soul. But that’s for another column.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

A sea of humanity shared some whale love Saturday in Kihei.

It was the Pacific Whale Foundation’s 34th World Whale Day, or as some of us call it, Whalentine’s Day. The whole month of February is a veritable love fest between humans and cetaceans. Our annual humpback visitors are peaking right now, the females birthing and mothering, the males ceaselessly and mindlessly competing with each other, the way guys of all species do.

Heading for the event, I rode the shuttle with Maui Transportation Director Jo Anne Johnson Winer. Navigating Kihei aboard mass transit felt like a glimpse of the future. In the sea of tents, I caught up with Robert Lyn Nelson, a pioneer in the “two-worlds” marine art movement. In the crowd I caught a glimpse of John Cruz, his guitar strapped to his back, Hawaii’s most soulful troubadour.

Who doesn’t whales? I recently met an Oahu couple whose 10-day Kaanapali vacation included five whale watches with Trilogy. Other friends who visit annually always book the PWF cruise with Marty Dread. He does his inimitable reggae, and the whales show up to join the dance.

Sailors used to hunt whales; now the whales capture us. They can make an entire boat do stupid-human tricks as everyone rushes from one side to the other, snapping away. In our minds we’re shooting spectacular breaches. In reality, the photos look more like smudges of black amidst lots of blue.

Whale watches always feel less like National Geographic photo shoots than family reunions to me. The whales are our distant cousins. Dolphins, too. When a random ocean swim turns into a chance encounter with a pod of them, the opportunity to look into their eyes and smiling faces as you swim alongside is something not easily forgotten.

But we’re selective in picking our ocean friends. Sharks, not so much. (Cue the music from “Jaws.”) They’re the Rodney Dangerfields of the sea. It’s not that they get no respect – it’s just the wrong kind.

After a recent upturn in shark encounters with humans, the University of Hawaii and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources have increased research into shark movement in local waters.

At last count, 21 tiger sharks had been satellite tagged – we can only imagine how – allowing us to track them from the relative safety of our computer screens at

Individual animals, identified by gender and size, are represented by different-colored fins. You can watch their recent comings and goings on an animated map. It’s like the eco version of the old board game Battleship. Judging by the movement of the colored dots, they seem to favor the waters between Kihei, Makena and Kahoolawe, like Kihei party animals on a Saturday night.

All this attention isn’t helping sharks’ image . . . or local tourism. While feeding into the “Jaws” scenario, it overlooks some basic facts.

Numerous websites put shark-attack deaths at the absolute bottom of the list of deaths from anything else. They’re waaaaay less likely. There’s about one a year, one site claims, as compared to more than 650,000 from heart disease, more than 550,000 from cancer, 150,000 from strokes, 99,000 from hospital infections, and almost 60,000 from flu. Car accidents, suicides, accidental poisoning and MRSA claim tens of thousands. Yes, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning. Falling off your bike is more dangerous, not to mention fireworks, train wrecks or even extreme heat or cold.

We cling to our shark fears because they’re so horrible, yet exciting, like horror movies. Survivors’ reports just up the threshold for hideous imaginings.

True, sharks are dangerous – but there’s a degree of danger whenever you step off the shore into the unknown. Or get out of bed. Remind me to tell you my Portuguese man-of-war story sometime. Fear is natural, but that doesn’t excuse the arrogance on our part in assuming other critters should behave the way we want them to, especially when we show up uninvited in their homes.

The shark factor may be why some of us are swimming more in pools these days. Upcountry Pool pals like Randy Braun, Jim Tang, Doug Rice, Christine Andrews, Anne Rillero and dozens more are members of my pod. We know each other by sight, if not name; I’m the guy who does the butterfly. We share a bond so close, we don’t need words to communicate. It’s more like sonar . . . and shared endorphins.

Whale love comes in many forms. You can try breaching yourself, between the lane lines. Or if you’re by the sea, you can send some out to the sharks.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Students in my English class at the college have problems with verb tense. They start in the past but quickly flip into the present.

Maybe this language challenge has its origins in pidgin. Maybe it’s teenspeak. Maybe it’s the Hawaiian oral tradition. Keali’i Reichel once told me that genealogy chanting was like channeling, bringing the past to life in the present with words.

We use verb tense, along with clocks and calendars, to keep track of time. But art’s not bad at doing the job, either.

It’s been a half-century since the Beatles first told us all you need is love. CNN’s new documentary, “The Sixties: The British Invasion,” co-produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, echoed just how profound those simple, one-syllable words were. They still are. The song’s brass-band fanfare – sounding like some sort of international anthem – intensifies the memory of the lads trying to lead the world in singing the same song.

Amidst flashbacks to some great musical performances by an assortment of still-youthful icons-to-be, the CNN documentary was part of 50th anniversary hoopla throughout the media marking the Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” That moment was the advent of the ’60s, the renaissance of American culture, our once-in-a-lifetime perfect alignment between art and the dramatically changing times in which it was being created.

Gerard Marti at Celebrites Gallery is keeping the ’60s alive, showing works in different media – the visual arts – by John, Paul and Ringo. His gallery in the Shops at Wailea is a place where ephemeral rock ‘n’ roll moments are permanently captured in the creative amber of painting and concert photography. Current resident rock idols like Steven Tyler and Mick Fleetwood are among the contributors to the visual concert always going on in his gallery.

Art’s role in mirroring its times – especially when those times span decades – was brought home by a couple of other legendary Maui guys, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, in their cool performance at the Grammys a couple of weeks ago.

George Clooney’s new movie, “The Monuments Men,” recalls a World War II mission by gallery curators and architects to rescue classic artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis. Seeing the movie on a visit to Oahu last weekend, after paying a visit to Pearl Harbor that morning, once again showed art’s role in providing a historical record.

Clooney’s jaunty romp co-starring Matt Damon and an international A-list of co-stars is entertaining enough, but it takes lots of liberties, feeling more like “The Guns of Navarone” or “The Great Escape,” some favorite but not-entirely-accurate movie adventures of my boyhood.

The timespan goes back further – centuries echoing eons – in Schaefer International Gallery’s new exhibit, “Mohala Hou Ke Kapa: Kapa Blossoms Anew,” at the MACC. Spearheaded by Maui’s Marie McDonald to showcase living artisans of this painstaking practice, the statewide exhibit features the work of other artists along with hers: Maile Andrade, Solomon Apio, R. A’ia’i Bello, Ka’iulani de Silva, Moana Eisele, Denby Freeland-Cole, Mililani Hanapi, Roen Hufford, Sabra Kauka, Gail Kuba, Pualani Maielua Lincoln, Marques Marzan, Vicki McCarty, U’ilani Naho’olewa, Terry Reveira, Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, Wesley Sen, Emily Kaliko Spenser, Verna Takashima and Dalani Tanahy.

Roots of this art form stretch back into Hawaiian mythology to the mo’olelo of demigod Maui on the slopes of Haleakala fashioning a rope from coconut tree fibers, then lassoing the sun to slow its ascent through the sky long enough for his mother, the goddess Hina, to dry her kapa.

The sense of fashioning raw natural material into something essential, artistic and mythical – and telling a great story in the process – is the operating principle running through this exhibit. Works on display encompass clothing, hangings, implements, plants, representational images and flights of fantasy. Only a few pieces are historic. The rest are new, bringing the art form back from near extinction at the end of the 19th century. Historic photos, and an illuminating new video by Kaliko and Jonathan Spenser, bring viewers into “The House for Beating Kapa,” weaving past and present into the strong, timeless fabric of Hawaiian culture.

Blazing new trails where that culture may be headed, TEDxMaui founder Katie McMillan, producer Sara Tekula and technology director Peter Liu have announced the addition of Sarah Rupenthal as community liaison and Emma White as speaker liaison as they bring this visionary gathering back to the MACC on Sept. 28.

Instead of using art to reacquaint us with our past, TEDxMaui offers glimpses of future possibilities. As always, all you need is love. In the present tense.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Recent studies claim that social media can be dangerous to your health. Your mental health, at least.

With more than a billion Friends around the world, Facebook is indisputably our pre-eminent social network. Considering that such things as social networks didn’t even exist a decade ago and we managed to survive just fine may raise questions about their longevity or shelf life. Nonetheless, the health warning, like those on cigarette packs or pharmaceutical ads on TV, was inevitable.

According to two German university studies, the more frequently many subjects visited their “Friends,” the more lonely and envious they became.

I always thought an image of Narcissus should be part of the Facebook logo. He was the mythical Greek hunter who spotted his reflection in a pool and fell in love at first sight. Throw in Photoshop, relentless marketing, the popular boomer pastime of “reinvention” and a healthy dose of voyeurism, and you’ve got a quick, easy recipe for self-absorption or an express ticket to the dark side.

It’s not helped by those of your Friends who keep you up to date on their travels (“Saint-Tropez lovely as always . . . tomorrow we yacht to Cinque Terre”), or the ones who think photos of their restaurant lunch entries hold any interest for the rest of us.

In these times when the fine art of self-portraiture has been reduced to a series of “selfies,” it’s hard to tell if we’re chronicling our lives on social media . . . or trying to live our lives as a series of photo ops. Everything’s just a click away. The jury’s still out on whether social media is bringing us together or driving us deeper into isolated reflections of our own faces on screens large and small.

But in a new column dedicated to “Connections,” social media is where more of them are happening. It is our collective digital nervous system with unbelievably quick response times.

Facebook is where I first hear about huge waves at Jaws, then watch Harry Donenfeld’s drone video of surfers doing unbelievable things (like just surviving) on them. It’s where I see a mammoth tree fall on Kokomo Road, almost the moment it happens, (thank you, Katie McMillan, glad it missed you).

It’s where Randall Rospond previews his latest CD. It’s where Tony Novak-Clifford reminds us that Open Studio begins next weekend Upcountry, offering great opportunities to visit artists in the studios where their inspiration lives.

And it was where Sara Tekula announced the Sierra Club’s annual free lunch honoring environmental heroes last Saturday at Kaunoa Senior Center. Those heroes included Vince Mina, a leading pioneer in organic and sustainable farming in Hawaii, and Mahina Martin, honored for tireless organizing for one worthy cause after another.

Besides the chance to catch up with old friends like Tim Wolfe, David Fisher and Susan Bradford while happily grazing on a Mana Foods and Flatbreads feast, the event brought a number of politicians and candidates – some in letters or video addresses from Washington – to solidify ties with this revered, always reasonable environmental organization.

A banner on the wall proclaimed, “Our Environment is Our Economy.” It’s also our health, our identity and the future for generations to come, observed one speaker after another.

One good thing about politics in a blue state is you don’t have to waste too much time in inane arguments with people convinced that realities of our modern world – climate change, for instance – are some sort of hoax or conspiracy.

Instead, you can seek solutions.

Sustainability and green innovation are also what UH-Maui College is about these days. It’s heartening to think Maui can build an actual economy – something more than serving drinks with umbrellas in them to tourists – by ingeniously tapping into our unique natural resources.

Maui can be a greenhouse for the green movement. Going back to the land is the path to the future when done with intelligence, integrity and care.

That path to the future is being paved by social media. Posting something online is like digitally dropping a pebble into an infinity pool. My ripples travel out to friends and family in New York and Oklahoma where I grew up; and to still-dear friends in Santa Cruz, including a lot of former newspaper colleagues. But mostly the ripples stay on Maui, where so many of my Facebook friends are artists and creative souls of one sort or another.

Social media is our digital salon, with our latest creations hanging on the walls. It’s also a rich vein to mine for a newspaper column in a new millennium.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at or 344-9535.