Maui Connections

Today’s announcement that exotic Freida Pinto will be honored with the 2017 Maui Film Festival Shining Star Award is fanning excitement for the festival, returning June 21 to 25 to Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

To start getting in shape to cover the festival for the 17th time in its 18 years (I missed 2009 for a family wedding), I went to see “Baywatch” last week at Kaahumanu 6.

Granted, “Baywatch” — which turns the jiggly TV lifeguard series into a potty-mouth comedy obsessed with amazing bodies in red bathing suits — will never be mistaken for the joyful, eye-popping, great storytelling and spiritually uplifting themes that have guided visionary festival founder and director Barry Rivers’ selections through the years.

“Baywatch” is a pleasant enough diversion if you check your IQ at the ticket counter and get into the proper state of arrested development. But there is a connection with MFF. It was about this time last year that I was sitting across a table interviewing Kelly Rohrbach — she’s “Baywatch’s” blond lifeguard, you can’t miss her — who was last year’s Rising Star. “Baywatch” co-star Zac Efron received his own Shining Star award from the festival in 2010.

Close encounters of the celebrity kind have been my assignment over almost two decades covering the festival. During that time, the happy “cine-bration” has hit a bunch of bull’s-eyes, looking into the future and bestowing honors on folks like Brie Larson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emma Roberts, Zooey Deschanel and Olivia Wilde, the moment before they became the next big thing in the industry.

The festival is when Maui gets reel, squeezing a year’s worth of star-powered L.A. glitz into five laid-back island-style days and nights. The week Zac Efron received his MFF plaque, he also graced the cover of People Magazine. Last week in the supermarket checkout line, there was Kelly Rohrbach on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

Karen Gillan, currently on box office charts in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” will be honored with the festival’s Rising Star Award June 24 (for more details about Gillan, see this past Sunday’s Pau Hana section in The Maui News). And at least two more honorees will be announced in coming weeks.

But the festival offers plenty of alternatives to luminary star gazing at the Celestial Cinema. Now that the schedule has been finalized, folks more inclined to watch till they drop have plenty of fine films to choose from, in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, as well as Wailea.

There’s also the option of just eating and partying your way though its array of tropical soirees.

One highlight this year will be the 8 p.m. premiere June 23 of “Kuleana,” written and directed by Brian Kohne and produced by Stefan Schaefer, set and shot on Maui, with some 500 local folks (including yours truly) involved one way or the other with the production. That’s enough friends and family to fill the Celestial right there.

It will be followed by a “special surprise screening” at 10 p.m., not to be missed.

And Maui provides the backdrop for another good friend in “Ram Dass, Going Home” at 3 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater.

I’m usually too busy with interviews, and then too stressed with deadlines, to see too many movies myself. But ones I wish I could see include Wednesday’s opening-night Wailea double feature: “Beatriz at Dinner,” co-starring a yet-to-be-announced festival honoree at 8 p.m.; followed by “Dean,” a comedy about tragedy at 10.

Over at Castle Theater Saturday, “A Family Man” presents corporate headhunter Gerard Butler discovering what’s really important at 3 p.m.; followed by my favorite movie road-trip traveling companions, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, in “The Trip to Spain” at 5 p.m.

But wait, there’s more: Two nights, Thursday and Sunday, of spectacularly cinematic surfing at the Celestial Cinema! And enough other films with spiritual and/or environmental and/or just hopeful outlooks to make you remember that this world is a pretty great place after all, no matter what it may look like on other screens these days.

Last year, Navigator Award honoree Bryan Cranston said, “What this festival clearly shows is an appreciation for film as an art form as opposed to just a pastime.”

“Sometimes I think it’s important to accept an award just so you know in the back of your mind you deserve something, you know?” said fellow Navigator Award recipient Viola Davis.

A few months later, she would be on stage in Hollywood, with an Academy Award in her hand.

That’s how it goes at the Maui Film Festival.

It’s “La La Land” Maui-style, where you can’t tell the difference between movies and the real thing.

For more information, tickets and passes, visit

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at