Last Saturday, three adventurous filmmakers and I went looking for the Cure to Civilization. Not only did it seem like the right thing to do - it felt great while we were at it.
After spending the first three nights of the 12th annual Maui Film Festival on the glitz beat (just making eye contact with folks like Megan Fox, Olivia Wilde or Garrett Hedlund should come with a "Danger High Voltage" warning), I changed hats Saturday to return to a job I love, moderating one of the festival filmmaker panels.
It was the gorgeous - not to mention, articulate and poetic - Hollywood stars who generated those hundreds of millions of media impressions that put Maui on the global entertainment news wires last weekend. But the panels are closer to Barry and Stella Rivers' compassionate, community-building spirit that has been the festival's heart and soul ever since it came to life 12 years ago.
Tough job but someone’s gotta do it: Interviewing Megan Fox, Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
On my filmmakers' panel was Finn Wayman, director of photograhy on "Bali: Life Is An Offering," a sensual documentary exploring that exotic land's magnetic pull on spiritual seekers from the West. Patrick Solomon's "Finding Joe" acquainted the audience with visionary mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose advice to "follow your bliss" can produce life-changing results.
And Tiffany Shlain was there to talk about "Connected," which feels like several separate, brilliant movies intertwining into one, stretching from the way our brains work to the potential of technology to create a central nervous system for the planet.
("Connected" and "Finding Joe" went on to win audience awards; the complete list is at the festival website, www.mauifilmfestival.com.)
It's heady stuff. Granted, the festival does sometimes feel like we're all singing "Kumbaya" in a like-minded support group for folks who don't get their information from Fox News. And the panels face the ever-present danger of preaching to the choir, not to mention feeling smug while you're doing it.
Nonetheless, my panel -and this year's festival in general -overflowed with hopeful, ingenious blueprints for new paradigms to meet the challenge of what festival Director Barry Rivers had dubbed "creating the future."
Maybe we're not ready to save the planet, yet -but almost everywhere you looked, the festival was about living on it more mindfully.
True, if we need a movie with "Happiness" in the title, it shows how far we are from the actual thing in our lives. But it also shows how hungry we are for things like happiness and fulfillment, and how ready we are to look beyond money, so-called success and all our stuff to try to find them.
The "big picture" seemed to inform even the smallest detail at this year's festival. Surf-movie icon Jack McCoy's new "A Deeper Shade of Blue" wasn't just a montage of jaw-dropping action, but an encyclopedic look at surfing from numerous vantage points. Its subtheme was "Hawaiian Surf Culture and the Spirit of Aloha."
Although McCoy told me in an interview that he had gotten into making surfing movies as an excuse to spend more time on the beach, his meticulous work belies his modesty. From its packed soundtrack of carefully chosen music through its variety of cinematic styles and techniques, his film is less something you watch and more something you experience - a full immersion in its subject.
Besides developing new underwater technology to capture the action, he seems to be pushing, and delighting in the filmmaking medium, to make audiences on dry land actually feel what surfing is all about, in their senses and their souls.
If McCoy has found a way of following his bliss in the ocean, other passions were on display Saturday night in the festival's signature Celestial Cinema.
Bracketed with three short films focusing on weird, lovable things that go on between couples, the double feature of "Beginners" and "Last Night" was alternately sweet, sad and funny. The films were a treasure trove of wise data about universal feelings and universal difficulties trying to express them.
Mike Mills' emotionally rich "Beginners" revolves around the relationship between a son (Ewan McGregor) and his dying father (Christopher Plummer), who at age 75, following his wife's death, comes out of the closet to announce he is gay. There's also the young man's enigmatic new girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and a Jack Russell terrier who speaks in subtitles.
"Last Night" offers the eye-candy pairing of Kiera Knightley and Sam Worthington as a picture-perfect Manhattan couple with everything and everything to lose. For all its gorgeous visuals, beginning with its photogenic cast, the film is a provocative, open-ended foray into temptation, showing that when it comes to adultery, sex is a mere technicality. What the Bible calls lusting in your heart is closer to the truth of the matter, jolting many in the audience with the same sensation: Shoots - busted!
As opposed to the mainstream movie industry, which considers summer the mindless season as it trots out a weekly parade of new films that either explode or try their best to lower the lowest common denominator, the Maui Film Festival gives its audience credit for being able to think and to feel.
Behind the scenes, highly efficient teams kept everything - from the films to the food to the buses - running on time. As the audience would relax, staring up at the silky night sky for Harriet Witt's astronomy lesson, the festival office would be abuzz with walkie-talkies and caffeine, as event manager Jeanine Thomason calmly put out one fire after another, never losing her cool, all in a night's work.
Besides the efficient staff, there are 300 volunteers at the Maui Film Festival; there are at least that many versions of what it's all about. The pride of ownership runs deep, even if the payment is nothing more than getting to watch the movie that night. Hey, isn't that what it's all about in the first place?
This year's films not only offered hopeful, heartfelt ways of moving forward, but accompanied them with resonant visions of this complicated, messy, wonderful business of being alive -and the reminder that love is the best thing we humans have going for us to deal with it.
Thanks for the reminder, Maui Film Festival. As I kept hearing all weekend from so many people in so many ways, we're lucky to have you.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.