Maui Connections

Nowadays, when we’ve all got tiny movie screens in our pockets and huge ones at home to watch whatever whenever wherever we want, the Maui Film Festival is a throwback to the simple pleasure of just going to the movies.

It’s far more thrilling with a group of total strangers who get molded into a community of shared emotions by the time the final credits roll.

The Maui Film Festival at Wailea debuts its 19th season Wednesday, with the Taste of Summer twilight “feastival,” at 5 p.m. at the Grand Wailea resort, followed by Celestial Cinema screenings of “Find Your Voice” at 8 p.m. and “Stay Human” at 10 p.m.

The festival continues in Wailea through Sunday. Screenings at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater run Friday through Sunday. Thursday’s Toes in the Sand Cinema on Wailea Beach behind the Four Seasons Resort features a “Hawaii Short Film Showcase” at 8 p.m., and “Long Story Shorts” at 10 p.m. Thursday. The beach screenings are open to the community, and they’re FREE!

It’s hard to believe it was almost two decades ago that festival founder Barry Rivers envisioned transforming Wailea’s Gold and Emerald golf courses into the most sublime outdoor screening room on the planet. The following June they fired up the projectors for the first time in what he had just dubbed the Celestial Cinema.

With Haleakala’s majestic silhouette behind the screen, the setting puts on its own light show. Coastal panoramas in all directions swirl into pastel paintings as twilight descends. Then astronomer Harriett Witt turns the audience in their lawn chairs into astronauts touring the night skies propelled by her words.

The Celestial Cinema is the festival’s signature, as stars in the sky compete with the galaxy of brilliant artists who have been honored in live tributes in front of its screen.

“Simply put, the Maui Film Festival is a beautiful place,” says Barry. “While enjoying great films, the sand between your toes, fantastic food and libation celebrations, you can reconnect with what matters most in life. Surrounded by the natural beauty of Maui and playing a little cosmic pinball with the universe at screenings and parties, under the stars is a truly unique way to see the world through new eyes.”

This year’s Rising Star tribute will honor Nick Robinson, currently starring in “Love Simon,” on Thursday, followed by the surfing cinema of “Andy Irons: Kissed by God,” at 8 p.m. and “Vague a l’ame” at 10 p.m.

Amber Heard, soon to be seen in “Aquaman,” will accept the Shining Star tribute on Friday, followed by the comedy of “Ideal Home” at 8 p.m. and “Happy Birthday Toby Simpson” at 10 p.m.

At least 15 filmmakers will attend screenings of their work, and will take part in four filmmakers panels Saturday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Wailea Beach Resort.

With the festival’s uncanny knack for honoring up-and-coming A-listers the moment before the world takes notice, and for making screen legends feel welcome and at ease, Maui Film Festival has made lots of famous friends over the years. You never know who else might show up this year.

Uplifting themes run through the programming on all its screens. You’ll find heroic surfers, male and female; music makers; environmental crusaders and spiritual seekers in the synopses in the handsome e-book program guide.

Action off-screen is like a progressive party, moving from one Wailea resort to the next each night. It’s Hollywood glitz in beach flip-flops at Maui No Ka Oi Magazine’s VIP Soiree & Honoree Celebration at Spago at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday; A Taste of Chocolate, co-sponsored and presented at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea at 10 p.m. Friday; and the Taste of Wailea — “the culinary jewel of the festival’s culinary arts celebrations” — at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Wailea Golf Academy up the hill from the Celestial Cinema. Saturday’s movie delicacies feature “Back to Burgundy” at 8 p.m. followed by “Off the Menu” at 10.

Celestial Cinema screenings conclude Sunday with “She is the Ocean” at 8 p.m. and “The Serengeti Rules” at 10.

Meanwhile, back at Maui Film Festival’s first home, Castle Theater has three days and evenings of provocative, thrilling and inspiring cinema:

Friday: “Keepers of Magic,” 3 p.m.; “Mountain,” 5 p.m.; “Puzzle,” 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: “The Bookshop,” 3 p.m.; “Hope Springs Eternal,” 5 p.m.; “Calling All Earthlings,” 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: “Zoo,” 1 p.m.; “2018 Short Film Showcase,” 3 p.m.; “Dirt Rich,” 5 p.m.; “Living in the Future’s Past,” 7:30 p.m.

I’ll be all over the place, wearing lots of hats this year. Hope to run into you!

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* 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