For Barry Rivers, it's not the 11th annual Maui Film Festival, that continues tonight through Sunday in Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater - it's the first festival of a new decade.
"That's why we selected 'Trust the future' as this year's mantra," said the festival's founder and co-director with his wife, Stella, as he attended to last-minute details Wednesday prior to the festival's glitzy opening-night tribute to Shining Star honoree Zac Efron.
With some 35 film screenings at the Celestial Cinema in Wailea and Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, along with parties, panels and culinary events, the festival has always struck a balance between Hollywood glamour, documentary conscience, independent spirit and laid-back Maui style. With a mix of documentaries and "indie" films long on eccentricity, love and the resiliency of the human spirit, Rivers notes, "As always, we present films that enlighten as well as entertain.
Beacon Award honoree Taylor Steele in action
"This year, so many people have noted, we have redoubled our efforts to provide hope for the future in films that are in touch with our times," he said.
More complete information is available at the festival website (www.mauifilmfestival.com). Jon Woodhouse previews this year's strong lineup of music-themed films in his Maui Beat column on Page 3.
In addition, with so many choices and four days to make them in, here are 10 more good bets:
1. "Castles in the Sky" 8 tonight in the Celestial Cinema, preceded by the tribute presentation of the festival's Beacon Award to filmmaker Taylor Steele.
Taylor Steele's work stands apart from other surfing cinema. It's not just the great wave action by folks including Jordy Smith, Dane Reynolds, Rob Machado and Dane Rastovich, but the striking cinematography and the unusual locales that are the signatures of Steele's work. Along with the wave action, Steele and his talented crew are known for turning the cameras the other way, exploring the lands and the cultures they are visiting, providing soul and sociology to go along with the wave riding.
2. "Ho'okele Wa'a: Turning the Canoe" 7 tonight, Castle Theater.
Made on Maui, this documentary focuses on people we think of as our friends and neighbors, putting into practice real solutions to the environmental challenges facing the planet. Narrated by Kapena Boyd and directed by Danny Miller, its concerns range from preserving natural habitat to converting renewable resources into energy.
3. "Hana Surf Girls" 8 p.m. Friday, Castle Theater.
Lipoa Kahaleuhi and Monyca Byrne Wickey are the "stars" of this made-in-Hana documentary. The girls caught the attention of filmmaker Russ Spencer during a visit to the remote East Maui village. Captivated by their prowess in the water, his film is equally adept at portraying their lives on land, and the unique way of life in Maui's remote hamlet.
4. "Norman" 10 p.m. Friday, Celestial Cinema.
Adam Goldberg, Dan Byrd, Emily Vancamp and Richard Jenkins give touching performances in this touching story of a high school misfit's efforts to turn around the challenges in his life - and the unintended consequences of his acts. Directed by Jonathan Segal, it achieves an exquisite balance between tragic realities and the quirky resiliency to survive them, with humor and the thrill of first love thrown in for good measure.
5. Filmmakers panels 11:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Mei Court at Wailea Beach Marriott Resort.
Full disclosure: It's not just because this writer is moderating the first panel that these sessions come recommended. The three panels -"Love, Love, Love What's Going On?" "Can True Beauty Change the World?" and "Making Movies That Matter" - provide up-close-and-personal glimpses of filmmakers in action. Not only do the sessions illuminate the process of creating screen art, they also provide valuable glimpses of the passions behind the camera.
6. "happythankyoupleasemore" 8 p.m. Saturday, Celestial Cinema.
"How I Met Your Mother" TV star Josh Radnor makes an auspicious debut as writer, director and protagonist of this smart, touching offbeat look at various sorts of love in modern Manhattan. Like a young, attractive Woody Allen - only warmer, and without the whining - Radnor produces wry laughs and a sense of gratitude, in the audience as well as the characters on-screen. Radnor and co-star Malin Ackerman will be in attendance.
7. "Cherry" 10 p.m. Saturday, Celestial Cinema.
This bittersweet coming-of-age dramedy follows a smart 17-year-old to a prestigious university where he becomes involved with an "older woman" in one of his classes, and her 14-year-old daughter. Dancing on the edge of Oedipal impulses, it never makes a false step over the line. Kyle Gallner, Laura Allen and Britt Robertson star; Jeffrey Fine writes and directs.
8. "442 - Live with Honor, Die with Dignity" 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Castle Theater.
The story of the "Go For Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-American soldiers is retold by filmmaker Junichi Suzuki. Although the story is well known in Hawaii, Suzuki, who moved to Los Angeles from Japan nine years ago, brings new light to this chapter in history, for Americans as well as Japanese. "I am not Japanese American and I am not a victim of war or racial discrimination, therefore I felt I could stand in a more neutral aspect and portray the difficulties of their lives from another point of view," says the fillmmaker.
9. "Boy" 8 p.m. Sunday, Celestial Cinema.
Imagine something between "Whale Rider," "The Karate Kid" and a wacky comedy and you'll catch the drift of this favorite at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival. James Rolleston, 11, plays the scrappy Maori protagonist, conjuring in his imagination the things missing from his life. Topping the list is his desire to see Michael Jackson in concert. Oscar-nominated Taika Waititi directs.
10. Your choice
Maybe it's the way the movies segue into one another, forming "one big movie" teaching us about what it means to be human. Maybe it's the way the pastel twilight of dusk over the Celestial Cinema makes you realize what filmmakers are talking about when they speak of the "magic hour." The best movie at the Maui Film Festival is the one going on in your head, on screen and off, a collaborative effort by all involved.