WAILEA - Versatile actor James Marsden, 38, described himself as "a bit of a chameleon" before accepting the 2012 Nova Award at the Maui Film Festival's Celestial Cinema on Saturday.
"The Nova Award honors a film artist whose stunningly original and seamless performances consistently infuse each character they play with unique insight and wisdom," according to the festival program.
Marsden's career ranges from the "X-Men" action trilogy, through musicals including "Hairspray" and "Enchanted," to light comedies including "Bridesmaids," "Death at a Funeral" and the more adult-oriented new "Bachelorette" that the festival premiered at 11 p.m.
Actor James Marsden poses with his Maui Film Festival Nova Award on Saturday in Wailea. The five-day festival concludes today. For a schedule of films and other information, go online to www.mauifilmfestival.com.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Marsden had his own version of what the award signified.
"It's sort of an achievement award for playing diverse roles. My career started a path of jumping from drama to comedies to all these different things. But it was really just like, what scripts are in front of me and what do I respond to? Also, you are still hired help as an actor, and a job's a job. But it started to take shape. One of the defining things about me as an actor is I'm a guy who plays a lot of different roles."
It was the second visit to the Maui Film Festival for Marsden, who called it "one of the best festivals to be a part of. Obviously, you're in paradise, but the people are so kind and generous, and the people who show up at these movies are really here to see the showcase of this original work."
A festival staff member estimated that Saturday's crowd would top 3,000, adding to estimates totaling around 6,000 for the previous three nights' screenings.
During his time on the island, Marsden also found the time to leave Wailea and go for a bike ride on Haleakala. Not downhill, but the other way.
"I'm sort of an avid cyclist and have been for the last couple of years. I knew this was a storied climb. It's the longest paved climb in the world, actually, sea level to 10,023 feet over 36 miles. It's a monster."
Describing the 5 1/2 hours on the bike, he said, "You go through several different climate zones, you go through so many different smells, you go through the eucalyptus trees, you ride through the clouds and then above the clouds and then you feel like you're on Mars. The observatory up there looks like the Mars Rover, and then the lava rock . . . you feel like you could fall off, into the sky.
"It's a gut check. But it's also one of the more spiritual experiences I've had with a connection to the earth."
On Friday night, a Celestial Cinema audience of around 2,500 sat spellbound by "Samsara," a wordless, epic documentary filmed in 25 countries over five years by director Ron Fricke and producer co-writer Mark Magidson.
Magidson was on hand to accept the festival's Soul in Cinema award, presented to the producing team best known for the groundbreaking documentary "Baraka" in 1992.
Using music instead of narration or voices of any kind, "Samsara" illustrated concepts familiar in Buddhism and other Eastern religions of impermanence, as well as the endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth.
The two filmmakers worked with 70-mm film cameras to capture images of dazzling clarity and are masters of time-lapse cinematography and other editing techniques to convey unique images of the world and its people.
Hawaii has its own place in that world, Magidson said prior to the award presentation.
"This place has an amazing vibe to be in, to just be living in," he said. "I was over here 20 years ago filming on 'Baraka.'"
He first met Barry Rivers, who had not yet launched the Maui Film Festival, during that shoot.
"Barry Rivers was our local guy in Hawaii. He got our film permits. We actually hiked up to the top of Haleakala together. In 'Baraka,' there were all these amazing time-lapse cloud scenes that were shot from up there.
In the new "Samsara," Kilauea volcano fills the screen with billowing clouds of steam and streams of fire, in a sequence signifying birth.
"It's a kind of filmmaking that tries to provide more of an inner experience rather an intellectual experience," Magidson said of the cinema style that director Fricke has likened to "guided meditation."
"It's very challenging, because it has to have a structure, but you have to find the structure in the editing process. You don't really know the imagery that you'll wind up getting. A lot of times when you get that material, you figure out connections based on the images from around the world that can connect in ways you couldn't possibly have written.
"I still struggle to describe it verbally," he said. "And I've sort of come to the conclusion that if you could do it justice verbally, you wouldn't really need the movie. We try to leave space for the viewer to bring something to it."
The Maui Film Festival concludes today in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater and at the Celestial Cinema in Wailea, where a highlight will be the presentation of the 2012 Navigator Award to actress Elizabeth Banks at 8 p.m., followed by a premiere screening of her new film "People Like Us."
For schedule details and more information, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.
* Rick Chatenever can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.