"Navigation is at least 3,000 years old. It's an amazingly deep system, all about humans' ability to read nature to find a way. From tiny dots of light billions of light years away, to the things in the ocean, to the wildness of the sea. If you can't see it, or feel it, you can't find your way. It's really that simple."
That was Nainoa Thompson explaining celestial navigation to me last Wednesday. His two young kids gleefully yanked at his hands and hung from his arms as he did the interview a few minutes before a Maui Film Festival tribute.
Thompson is the navigator of the Hokule'a, the Hawaiian voyaging canoe that has traversed the Pacific since 1976, covering 135,000 miles - or six circumnavigations of the equator - guided not by modern technology, but by the ancient science of following the stars.
Rick Chatenever interviews actress Jessica Chastain during this year’s Maui Film Festival.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
It was a good metaphor for the festival itself.
A few minutes later, Thompson would walk up the hill to the majestic Celestial Cinema screen on the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Course to accept the festival's Visionary Award prior to a screening of Sam George's "Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau."
Nainoa would hold the record crowd of more than 3,500 spellbound, retelling and reliving the last moments before iconic Hawaiian waterman Aikau set off on a surfboard from the capsized Hokule'a in the Molokai Channel to find help, never to be seen again.
That story, along with the film and the record crowd, set the tone for the most successful Maui Film Festival in memory. Days later, anyone who had been in range was still talking about that night, with reverberations stretching beyond the ocean, to deeper thoughts about what "Hawaiian" means.
I spend every festival in a caffeinated rush of movies, movie stars, movie makers and newspaper deadlines. Having been a fan from the beginning of festival directors Barry and Stella Rivers' belief in movies as life-affirming lessons in what it means to be human - as opposed to mind-numbing box-office numbers - I cherish my front row seat for the festival. It's always a learning, and feeling, experience.
Among this year's highlights, I learned how much more gorgeous "Middleton" - a charming romantic comedy starring Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga - looked on the Celestial Cinema screen than it had as a screener on my computer.
"Desert Dreams," a wordless cinematic poem chronicling five seasons in the Sonoran desert, reminded me that words are not always necessary to tell the best stories.
"Big Sur" showed that words sometimes get in the way of telling the story, as it recounted '50s beat generation author Jack Kerouac's doomed, alcohol-fueled effort to escape his demons in California's Eden.
Joss Whedon's delicious "Much Ado About Nothing" proved just the opposite - that words are the pathway to truth - at least when they're written by William Shakespeare.
"Short Term 12" was the dazzling debut of a long-term career for Maui-born-and-raised filmmaker Destin Cretton.
The filmmakers panel I moderated walked the tightrope between art and commerce, concluding that passion is more valuable than business sense when it comes to turning a vision into something real that others can see on a screen.
I learned from actress Jessica Chastain that although she has shared the deepest emotions in an already storied career including two Oscar nominations, she had yet to be herself on a movie screen.
And I got to behold the old soul of 23-year-old Rising Star Brie Larson as she summed up the movie experience: "If we're doing our jobs right, you care about other people. You care about somebody else more than yourself, and it transcends . . . the point of art is to remind us of the core, what human existence actually is."
Amen, Brie. Thanks for reminding us, Maui Film Festival.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org