Maui Connections

At this time last year, island film fans were eagerly awaiting the Maui Film Festival premiere of “Kuleana,” a historical mystery-drama set in the early years of Hawaiian statehood, produced and filmed on Maui the summer before by a mostly local cast and crew.

The screening took place June 23 in the festival’s signature outdoor venue, the Celestial Cinema. It drew a record audience of more than 3,000 to watch its drama unfold, steeped deeply in the culture and language of Hawaii.

But that was just the beginning of the story. A Filmmakers Panel on “A Year in the Life of Kuleana and the Future of Hawaii Cinema” will be one of many highlights of this year’s Maui Film Festival, returning June 13-17 to Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. It starts at 1:30 p.m. in the Saturday lineup of four panels at the Wailea Beach Resort, beginning at 10:30 a.m.

“Since its world premiere in the ’17 Maui Film Festival, ‘Kuleana’ won numerous festival awards and just completed an unprecedented seven-week Regal Cinemas theatrical run in Hawaii and Guam, the first locally originated feature in almost a decade to grace the big screens.” says “Kuleana” writer-director Brian Kohne. He predicts “a vibrant conversation about the state of local filmmaking, and what comes next for Hawaii Cinema.” He will be joined on the panel by Hawaii State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson; “Kuleana” co-star and cultural liaison Kainoa Horcajo, and myself as moderator.

That panel, and news that young actor Nick Robinson, star of “Love, Simon,” will join Amber Heard as this year’s awards luminaries are late announcements to the festival schedule, which has made some small changes to screenings listed in its brochure. For the most up-to-date details about this year’s schedule, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.

Last week’s First Friday in Wailuku could have passed for a spontaneous “Kuleana” reunion. I kept running into some of the 500 local folks involved in the production amid the parade of smiling faces, including Malika Dudley, George McElravy and Evelyn Billington strolling along Market Street.

Under the Historic Iao Theater marquee, long the home of Maui OnStage, were a couple of the movie’s co-stars, Steven Dascoulious and Hoku Pavao, along with her kids.

After more than a decade transforming the Iao into a first-rate small theater venue as they capably helmed its resident theater company, Maui OnStage, Facilities Manager Steven and his executive-director wife, Alexis Dascoulias, have announced plans to leave the island and return to their old New Hampshire stomping grounds.

“Eleven years has been a long run. It’s been an honor,” said Steven.

The multitalented couple will be fondly missed, not only by Maui’s theater community, but by the audiences it serves so creatively.

Outside the Iao waiting to shoot the evening’s “Cyberlesque” entertainment was photographer Jack Grace and his wife, Denni Grace. Jack was “Kuleana’s” amazing still photographer, producing the images that grace the poster and captured the film’s spirit.

Meanwhile, up the block, artist David Sandell was talking story with visitors including Suzi Osborn in his colorful, landmark art gallery. David — creative chronicler of Market Street for decades with his vivid, ’60s-inspired poster art — had a memorable cameo in “Kuleana,” as he did in Kohne’s first film, “Get a Job,” also produced on Maui. Ditto for David’s scene-stealing wife, Virginia Sandell.

By the time I passed Larry Feinberg — immortalized as “Sunburned Tourist” in the “Kuleana” cast list — it was obvious that it takes a village to make a movie. At least one like “Kuleana.” It’s the local version of the “six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon” movie trivia game, where everyone knows someone who knows someone . . . who had some role in making it all happen.

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Filmmaker and event producer Ken Martinez Burgmaier reports that lots of Maui friends helped make last weekend’s seventh annual Big Island Jazz & Blues Festival a sellout at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

The Kohala Coast was vog-free for Mauians dancing to the music of Grammy-winning jazz and blues legends. They included Ernie Abarro, owner of IHOP and Max’s in Kahului; Amigo’s restaurant owners Jesus and Pedro Ortega and their wives; John and Stephanie Truesdale of Makawao; Bill and Jen Caldwell of Lana’i Expeditions Ferry; Mike Woesner of Hana; Junior Calisto Palos of Haiku; Hula Grill General Manager Orrin Cross; musician Benny Uyetake and Dave Lower from Lahaina.

Ken’s Maui-based Jazz Alley TV and HawaiiONTV Film crews filmed a one-hour TV special of the weekend, and Ken got the good news that there would be an eighth annual festival from Mauna Kea General Manager Craig Anderson , formerly general manager of the Westin Maui.

* 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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