WAILEA - Some film festivals are known as places where deals are made. The Maui Film Festival is a place where films get cast.
The festival launched its 13th season Wednesday, honoring actor-writer-director Josh Radnor with its Triple Threat Award. The tribute was followed by a screening of Radnor's new comedy, "Liberal Arts," on the festival's signature outdoor Celestial Cinema screen.
It was the second festival appearance for the 37-year-old Radnor, best known as one of the stars of the long-running CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." He had shown his first film, "Happythank-youmoreplease," here in 2010, the same year the festival's major honoree was actor Zac Efron.
Maui Film Festival Triple Threat Award winner Josh Radnor answers questions posed by Akaku News Director Wanda Moore on Wednesday in Wailea. He was selected for the award for his acting, writing and directing skills.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The two actors had never met before, "but we just struck up a nice friendship here, and stayed in touch," said Radnor before the tribute. "I thought he would be totally right for this role, and he totally was. He came out to shoot it for a few days, and it was great."
The festival opened Wednesday afternoon at Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, screening a documentary titled "2012: The Beginning." The title was an ironic choice since the film explores the Mayan prophecy that the world would end this year.
"Enlightened exhilaration," was the way festival Director Barry Rivers described the criteria he uses to select films each year. "Or exhilarating enlightenment, if you prefer."
This year's schedule features the festival's trademark blend of environmentally minded documentaries, touching slice-of-life comedies and dramas, uplifting shorts, concert films and state-of-the-art surfing epics.
"There's some political activist stuff in there, there's a little bit of everything. There's stuff from studios, there's independent work, there's first-time filmmaker work. There are some great shorts."
Noting that the festival had once been described as "a jewel box festival," Rivers said: "I love that analogy. That's what I feel like I'm going out there trying to do - trying to find a couple of rubies, a few sapphires, some sparkling diamonds. You can do that if you have the time, and know where all the shafts are in the mine. But at the end of the day you can feel good about every single film shown here."
Radnor's film is a good example.
Set at the filmmaker's own Ohio alma mater, Kenyon College, "Liberal Arts" casts him as a 30-something alum who becomes involved with a coed half his age when he returns to the campus. Already a hit at Sundance for its mix of intellect and innocence, it co-stars Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney, along with Efron.
Radnor said he went back to the college to show "Happythankyoumoreplease," "and I just had this really strange experience of realizing how much older I was than all the students there. My memories of being there were so sharp, like they had just happened yesterday. I couldn't figure out how time had bended in such a way to make me twice as old as everyone else there. So I wrote a movie about a guy going through that kind of crisis."
The opening film attendance was estimated at about 1,200 people.
The live, in-person Celestial Cinema tributes continue tonight with surf-filmmaker Tim Bonython accepting the Beacon Award, followed by a screening of "Immersion." On Friday, writer-producer Mark Magidson will accept the Soul in Cinema Award he shares with director Ron Fricke, before showing their wordless, epic metaphoric documentary "Samsara."
Versatile star James Marsden will be presented with the Nova Award on Saturday and will screen his outrageous new comedy, "Bachelorette," in the late slot that evening. And the luminary awards will culminate Sunday when Elizabeth Banks accepts the Navigator Award before screening her new film, "People Like Us."
Maui Film Festival continues with screenings of some 45 theatrical, documentary and animated films, both long and short this afternoon through Sunday in Wailea and in the MACC's Castle Theater. The festival will present three filmmaker panels, at 11 a.m., 12:15 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. It also will present the lavish outdoor food event, "A Taste of Wailea," before Saturday night's Celestial Cinema screening. It also has a reputation for throwing some of Wailea's glitziest parties throughout the weekend.
For a complete schedule or more information, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.
* Rick Chatenever can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.