Maui Connections

Kids in fancy Western shirts casually lassoed wooden cows in front of the Aloha Cowboy storefront. Members of the Chop Suey Jazz Orchestra looking spiffy in black shirts and ties, blew warm-up scales on their horns on the stage erected on the street.

Beautiful downtown Makawao was getting ready for its monthly Third Friday block party. Expert gardener Anne Gachuhi, a long way from her Kenyan birthplace, was setting up her Samosas by Anne food booth. Tacos . . . pizza . . . ribs . . . BBQ – food trucks and booths transformed Baldwin Avenue parking places into exotic eateries. Aromas from worlds away filled the air.

Unlike nightly news reports bringing scary new evidence of global climate change elsewhere, seasonal shifts are more subtle here in the islands. The Makawao History Project’s Paniolo Museum marked this first weekend of summer by inviting a group of writers in to sign books.

Under the eyes of rodeo riders, polo players and hardworking ranchers frozen forever in the photos on the walls, the evening was an inadvertent celebration of Haleakala – not for all its agriculture that feeds us, but for the literary inspiration that feeds our souls.

Authors John Harrison (“Haleakala Ranch”), Jill Engledow (“Haleakala – A History of the Maui Mountain”), Jackie Pias Carlin (“Spirit of the Village” and the upcoming “Aunty’s Place”) and Gail Ainsworth (“Maui Remembers: A Local History”) sat behind their handsomely illustrated books on the table, genially sharing their stories with visitors.

As books themselves quickly become historic artifacts, it was heartening just being in the presence of all these poetic scribes working in the shadow and maternal embrace of the towering mountain visible through the windows.

The visit also provided an opportunity to catch up with Cheryl Ambrozic and Mike Foley, two of the dedicated folks keeping the charming little museum happening. It feels more like a ranch bunkhouse kitchen than a dust-covered repository of relics.

Makawao’s paniolo past is way better than most Hollywood Westerns. Just because they sometimes put flowers in their hatbands doesn’t mean the islands don’t grow some of the toughest and most skillful cowboys, and cowgirls, in all the land.

With tack gear, farm implements, Eddie Flotte watercolors and historic group photos talking story from the walls, the unpretentious little space makes you feel – rather than merely observe – the uniquely rich and colorful multiethnic culture contained in the word “Upcountry.”

The following day took us a little farther around the mountain to Gary Greenberg’s garden party in Haiku. With a singular talent for making art out of science and science out of art, Gary is the guy who uses multiple exposures with with 3-D cameras to shoot single grains of sand.

Like snowflakes, no two grains of sand are the same. And like poet William Blake observed, each single grain can reveal the world – if you just know how to look.

With all Gary’s artist friends, his parties feel like salons – only they’re under palm trees instead of in a Paris salon in the ’20s. Among the creative folks there Saturday were Michelle Sewell, Jacob Liberman, Bill Paynich, Sandra Florence, Robert Pollock, Jo Danieli, Robert Stone, Tom and Nancy Vendetti and Martha Woodbury.

Barry Sultanoff and Juan-Jose Iuorno Paladino – better known on local airwaves as Dr. B and JJ – updated me on the return of Mana’o Hana Hou Radio. But the guests of honor were probably Gary’s son and grandson, Jason (or Dorje) and Ronan, paying a visit from Capitola, Calif.

Solstice weekend came to a soothing close Sunday afternoon, putting an audience of around 4,000 under the calming spell of slack key music at the free annual Ki Ho’alu Festival, sponsored each year by The Maui News.

Event organizer Milton Lau was the first friend I ran into in the sea of faces basking in the sunshine. Smiling as he always is, Milton was savoring some national publicity earlier that morning for this celebration of one of Hawaii’s unique art forms.

“This is our 23rd year,” he beamed. “We must be doing something right.”

As far as Art Vento – the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s president and CEO – was concerned, one of the right things was that it was free. The night before, the center had presented Art=Mixx Bohemian Feminique drawing around 2,500 Generation X-ers. It was also free.

In fact, the MACC has entertained some 17,000 folks for free over the last six months, Art told the crowd, adding that those events are just as important as the internationally known headliners in giving the center its identity.

And they feel even more welcoming in the soft season of summer on Maui.

* 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

For sale: Family memories. Some happy, some not. Priced to sell quickly.

For all the great minds around the planet pondering wealth inequality, one easy fix is garage sales. We have one at our Kula home maybe once a year when the past and some more recent ill-advised consumer impulses catch up with us and there is no more space in the garage. Literally.

I have no interest in going to other people’s garage sales, but always enjoy ours a lot. When you don’t go to many parties, garage sales suffice. True, they require a little advance hunting and gathering, not to mention the soul-searching decision of whether to ask $1 or $2, 50 cents or a quarter for any particular item.

But there is a sense of purpose – or repurpose – in seeing something that has become useless in your own life begin a whole new chapter in someone else’s. Kids are especially good on this point, whether a very little girl cradling a brand-new (for her) baby doll in her arms, or a young man whose dad brings him back after they have researched the mountain bike we were selling.

The bike was barely used. Each time I tried, it reminded me how old I have become.

“I’ve only got $160,” he said. We were asking $200. “Sold,” I said.

Not much business sense on my part . . . but paying it forward counts for something.

Garage sales are opportunities to catch up with friends you haven’t seen since the last one.

Jim Mclemore – better known to island music fans as Jimmy Mac – is a regular, one of the guys who utilizes GPS to strategize his garage-sale map the night before. This time his wife, Annie, is with him. This won’t be the first time one of my old aloha shirts will reinvent itself as “vintage” on the rack in Annie’s Paia Trading Co.

The antique store is Paia’s oldest, says Jimmy. “It specializes in museum piece, like me.”

Hardly . . . at least not as long as he and the Kool Kats keep pumping out the high-octane rock ‘n’ roll every year at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Maui Calls.

They’re a fixture at the annual fundraiser, which returns Friday, Aug. 8. This year’s Maui Calls marks the 20th anniversary of our much-loved and well-used MACC, which maybe should go back to calling itself “The Center,” at least where the island’s creative life is concerned.

Here come photographer Rob Ratkowski and his wife, Diane. I haven’t seen Rob since collaborating with him, incorporating some of his dazzling astronomical photos of a sky full of stars dancing over Haleakala Crater in our new film, “The Quietest Place on Earth.”

Directed by Tom Vendetti, who co-produced with Robert Stone and myself, the documentary will have its world premiere Nov. 9 as part of the ARISE Film and Music Benefit at the MACC.

Presented by Mental Health Kokua, the nonprofit agency which Vendetti also directs, the all-day event directed by Don Lane is dedicated to breaking down the stigma our society places on mental illness and replacing it with mental health for us all.

Other illnesses send you to the doctor. The mental kinds, which touch a huge segment of the society, often send their victims into trying to hide their condition. Mental illness is not a crime – although the law sometimes deals with it that way. To learn more about it – including seeing just how thin the line is between what is called a mental disorder and what is called brilliant – visit the ARISE page on Facebook.

Among the next waves of garage salers buying basketballs, beach balls, golf balls, Halloween makeup, baby car seats, beach chairs, CDs, power drills and powder puffs are Cynthia Conrad, a contributor to this column, and her husband, Jerry Labb, one of the guys who have gotten Mana’o Hana Hou Radio turned back on, more powerful than ever at 91.7 FM.

Fun 23 Preschool Director Vickie Cunningham happens by, bringing her discerning eye to our wares. She mentions that because of the bump-up in age for kids entering kindergarten, she and her staff are expanding beyond their comfy home by Kula Hospital. They’re working with St. John’s Church to make space for Fun 45 for older Upcountry preschoolers; it’s already full.

That’s the thing about garage sales talk story is the real currency. The coconut wireless is the franchise. Commerce is a byproduct. Big scores are in the eye of the beholder.

It’s pointless to be greedy – there’s enough profit to go around.

* 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

Last Friday, Kamehameha Schools Maui intern Daisy Draper joined Matt Thayer and me covering the Maui Film Festival at the Grand Wailea. Actress Evan Rachel Wood was being honored that night, and we had a short window to interview her before she stepped onstage to accept her Nova Award.

Pink clouds in turquoise twilight provided the background for Matt’s shots as Daisy watched. She got to observe the good-natured behind-the-scenes jockeying and negotiations with festival PR director Ben Goodman, then the blur of a five-minute interview, then the adrenalized rush of turning the experience into words and pictures for the newspaper front page the following day.

Heady stuff. Not many jobs put you in point-blank range of so much gorgeousness. Few careers actually pay you for being starstruck. Between the glitz, excitement and pressure, Daisy got a crash course in this new genre called “celebrity journalism.” Matt and I tried to be mentors when we weren’t bumping against the deadline.

“It’s not always like this,” I told her. Turns out, that’s probably for the best.

Haiku resident Ram Dass echoed those sentiments the following morning. I was at the table with him at the filmmakers brunch at Longhi’s before a series of filmmaker panels at the nearby Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. The renowned author and spiritual teacher was the subject, along with his friend Timothy Leary, of “Dying to Know,” a documentary about their unique roles reshaping American society in the last half of the 20th century.

Gay Dillingham, the film’s director, was on a panel titled “Spirit in Cinema,” that I had the privilege of moderating.

Sitting in his wheelchair, his smile beaming over his white beard, I asked Ram Dass how it feels being a movie star these days. It’s different, he said. People still flock to him looking for wisdom, but they all want to have their pictures taken with him, too. A couple of women recently tore the buttons off his shirt for souvenirs.

It’s challenging, teaching selflessness in the age of the selfie.

Ram Dass greeted it all with bemused equanimity. Fame is temporary . . . actually, so’s life.

Fame was one of the topics covered in “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” which opened the festival’s newest venue, the Seaside Cinema Music Cafe and Sunset Lounge at the Grand Wailea. The comic documentary marking the directorial debut of “Wayne’s World,” “Shrek” and “Austin Powers” star Mike Myers has been getting glowing national attention in print and on network TV.

Adding to the thrill of its festival premiere was the fact that its subject – a legendary entertainment manager, music promoter, film producer and creator of the celebrity chef movement – has lived on Maui for decades, not far from where the film played on the outdoor screen.

The film’s subject, Shep, was affable and funny, with a never-ending supply of great stories both in the film and in his live appearance afterward. Getting to share the stage with him for the Q&A brought echoes of “Wayne’s World” to me: “I am not worthy . . . I am not worthy.”

That feeling persisted the following nights through interviews with actresses Emma Roberts and Evan, culminating on Saturday talking to Lupita Nyong’o, this year’s best supporting-actress Oscar winner for her unforgettable role in best-picture winner “12 Years a Slave.”

As poised and articulate as she was breathtaking to look at, she seems less actress than inspiration, punctuating her comments with a lilting, disarming laugh. She was just cast for “Star Wars: Episode VII.” What planet am I on? I wondered, as I got lost in space just looking in her eyes.

The Maui Film Festival is like that – dealing with spirit one moment, imagination the next. Besides the heart-stopping interviews, and mind-expanding panels, favorite movies of the few I got to see besides “Supermensch” and “Dying to Know” included “Awake: The Life of Yogananda” and “Magic Men.”

Festival founder and director Barry Rivers and his staff once again deserve high praise and deep thanks for the annual thrill ride from troubling realities and mind-bending questions through heart-expanding discoveries of our shared humanity, all the way to places of beauty beyond belief. And for throwing the island a great five-day party.

My friend Jim Tang, a member of the pun police, recently busted me for talking about how the festival’s magic leaps from reel to real. But that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. This year felt like it went deeper . . . and higher.

Just as well that it lasts only five days. One person can only handle so much of this precious stuff.

* 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

Versatile actor and Academy Award-winning songwriter Keith Carradine is a late addition to the lineup of stars coming to this year’s Maui Film Festival, which kicks off its 15th summer Wednesday in Wailea and at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Carradine will present the 2014 Maverick Award to the star of “SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” at 7:30 p.m., launching the festival’s glitzy new venue, the open-air Seaside Cinema Music Cafe and Sunset Lounge at the Grand Wailea.

Among this year’s gorgeous young honorees, including “12 Years a Slave” Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, the appearance by Carradine is one for the grown-ups – especially those who remember his early years acting in a lot of Robert Altman movies, including singing his Oscar-winning “I’m Easy” in Altman’s classic “Nashville.” (YouTube it – it’s worth it.)

He’s a great choice to present the award before the 8 p.m. screening of the comic documentary about Gordon, a groundbreaking entertainment manager, producer and longtime South Maui resident who played key roles in shaping the modern media landscape. A younger Carradine (weren’t we all?) starred in Shep’s first venture as a movie producer, 1977’s “The Duellists.”

Small world, eh? Shep’s career is like a Hollywood celebrity version of “The Circle of Life” in “The Lion King,” where every creature is connected to every other one. That may have been what prompted Mike Myers – better known as a writer and star of the “Wayne’s World,” “Austin Powers” and “Shrek” franchises – to make his directing debut at its helm. “SuperMensch” has been winning critical raves and audience-favorite awards on the festival circuit, and was featured this week on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Recounting Shep’s life and career – so far – the likely Oscar-contending documentary is part A-list celebrity gossip, part ’60s flashback, part hilarious shaggy dog story and part an unlikely spiritual evolution from the excesses of the era of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll into something more like family values today.

Everyone, from movie and music icons to the Dalai Lama, fondly knows Shep. It’s a variation on that parlor game connecting everyone in movies to Kevin Bacon – except this time, it’s six degrees of Sheparation.

For example, Carradine, born into an acting dynasty begun by his father, John Carradine, is the uncle of Ever Carradine, who stars with Henry Ian Cusick in “Frank vs. God,” a metaphysical comedy playing at 8 p.m. Friday in the festival’s Seaside Cinema.

Just being on this island and reading these words puts you one degree closer to Shep. And in one of the strangest twists of all, yours truly will be onstage doing the Q&A with him Wednesday, following the screening of the film, before opening it up to questions from the audience.

Meanwhile, across the isthmus on Wednesday night, another “local boy” – Ram Dass – will be attending the 6 p.m. festival premiere of “Dying to Know,” a documentary about him and Timothy Leary.

Since talking to Ram Dass in this column last week, I got a chance preview the documentary itself. Produced and directed by Gay Dillingham with narration by Robert Redford, it demolishes the stereotypes and punch lines associated with these controversial figures. Instead, it presents a fascinating narrative of two brilliant men living on the outskirts of conventional American society, who had huge under-the-radar roles in reshaping that society into the one we live in today.

Even though I thought I knew the story before, the film connected the dots in a new way, bringing to mind the old Bob Dylan lyric, “To live outside the law you must be honest.” With compelling interview subjects as co-stars, the production is very polished intellectually and cinematically, and at times, very trippy.

Two more films with strong Maui roots are showing at the MACC on Sunday. “Breath of Life” screens at 5 p.m. in Castle Theater. It combines beautiful filmmaking with a sobering message about the responsibilities of living on this planet – and the role Hawaiian wisdom could play in rerouting us to a brighter future. Maui filmmakers involved include Susan Kucera, Vene Chun, Cynthia Matske, Stephen Luksic, Jay April and Eric Gilliom.

Also at 5 p.m. in the MACC’s McCoy Theater, Maui filmmaker Stefan Schaefer will reveal lyrical truth and cinematic beauty in the life and work of W.S. Merwin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, better known locally as the guy with the amazing palm forest in Haiku.

Festival-goers should also note that six films – including “Begin Again” starring Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo – have changed dates, times and venues since the schedule was first published. Visit for details.

* 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.