Maui Connections

Like icing on the cake of a fun-filled family vacation in Santa Cruz, Calif., the Santa Cruz Film Festival accepted “Kuleana” while we were still in town. The festival runs Oct. 11 to 15 in the Tannery Arts Center; “Kuleana’s” specific time and date on the program have yet to be determined.

That was followed by news from the seventh annual Guam Film Festival that “Kuleana” is a finalist for its Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature, and star Moronai Kanekoa is a finalist in the Achievement for Acting category.

The film’s writer-director, Brian Kohne, was on the Mainland at the same time we were, in Texas, where “Kuleana” opened the El Paso Festival last week. Since premiering at the Maui Film Festival in June, it has also been invited to the Tribal Film Festival in Oklahoma and the Hawaii International Film Festival in the fall.

Produced by co-star Stefan Schaefer and featuring contributions from hundreds of creative Mauians on both sides of the camera, “Kuleana” attracted a record audience of more than 3,000 at the Maui festival. No wonder there’s such a strong sense of pride and ownership among local folks for this historical drama set on Maui in the early years of Hawaiian statehood. It’s a labor of love, screen craft and deep cultural values, and presents a vision of Hawaii that hasn’t been seen on the screen before.

Brian is planning a statewide theatrical run in the fall.

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Lots of folks wrote in about last week’s column, adding their personal Maui-Santa Cruz connections. Bob Silva of Kihei added yet another Hawaiian-themed restaurant, Pono Hawaiian Grill, to the eateries I mentioned last week. Its owner, Timmy Hunt, was born and raised on Maui.

Other one-time Cruzers who now reside on the Valley Isle will be happy to know Santa Cruz’ media scene is as vibrant — not to mention — wild and crazy as ever.

Lots of colleagues, collaborators and friends from my days working for the Santa Cruz Sentinel a quarter-century ago are alive and well in print and on the airwaves. Checked in with “Sleepy John” Sandidge, who’s still DJ-ing on KPIG, the pork-flavored radio station he helped found, back in the day. John also shows up on lots of other stations at the left end of the FM dial. As a concert producer he used to bring in artists including Maui boy Willie Nelson, and he still helps out whenever musicians like George Kahomoku Jr. show up to perform in Santa Cruz County.

Having traveling companions ages 3, 5 and 7 who call me “Grandpa” was a great way of seeing familiar old places with new eyes. We tromped through the majestic redwoods of Henry Cowell State Park, where Thomas the Tank Engine was paying a celebrity visit to Roaring Camp Railroad next door. We paid the requisite visit to Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and were mystified by a funky roadside attraction dating back to the 1940s called the Mystery Spot, known around the world for its bumper stickers.

At the kitschy Mystery Spot, optical illusions set the tone and standard rules of gravity don’t apply. It seems a perfect metaphor for reality these days.

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When I’m away, it’s great to have opening-nighters par excellence Cynthia Conrad and Jerry Labb filling in the blanks in the column for me. They had their eyes on the arts last weekend. First up was the Ebb & Flow Violin Synergy Festival at Seabury Hall’s A’ali’ikuhonua Arts Center. Robert Pollack brought four members of the San Francisco Symphony’s first violin section who performed intricate, contemporary compositions flawlessly. In the audience were Paul Janes-Brown, Gary Greenberg, Nina Vishnevska and Brian Moto.

The Maui Arts & Cultural Center was the center of activity Saturday night. Schaefer International Gallery Director Neida Bangerter brought Susan Middleton back for “Spineless,” a display of large-format portraits of marine invertebrates that seemed to float through the gallery. Following her on her exhibit walk-through were Claudia Johnson and John Ellis, Barry Sultanoff and Laurelee Blanchard, Bruce and Kolleen Wheeler, Inger and Rich Tully, Sharmen Graydon and her son Andy and grandson Graham.

Immediately following the reception at the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater, Kalani Pe’a, Grammy and Na Hoku winner, presented his first solo concert and celebration of the one-year anniversary of his debut album “E Walea.” He captivated the full house with Hawaiian and pop favorites, sung in a strong, multi-octave voice, with passion in his delivery. Appreciating the concert were Paul and Christine Alkire, Kathy Collins, Karen Fischer, Bonnie and Alana Yurkanin, Jeff Stark and Neida Cahoj. Up-and-coming 19-year-old Kason Gomes, the opening act, was a bonus for falsetto lovers.

* 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 rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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