Versatile actor and Academy Award-winning songwriter Keith Carradine is a late addition to the lineup of stars coming to this year's Maui Film Festival, which kicks off its 15th summer Wednesday in Wailea and at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Carradine will present the 2014 Maverick Award to the star of "SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" at 7:30 p.m., launching the festival's glitzy new venue, the open-air Seaside Cinema Music Cafe and Sunset Lounge at the Grand Wailea.
Among this year's gorgeous young honorees, including "12 Years a Slave" Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, the appearance by Carradine is one for the grown-ups - especially those who remember his early years acting in a lot of Robert Altman movies, including singing his Oscar-winning "I'm Easy" in Altman's classic "Nashville." (YouTube it - it's worth it.)
He's a great choice to present the award before the 8 p.m. screening of the comic documentary about Gordon, a groundbreaking entertainment manager, producer and longtime South Maui resident who played key roles in shaping the modern media landscape. A younger Carradine (weren't we all?) starred in Shep's first venture as a movie producer, 1977's "The Duellists."
Small world, eh? Shep's career is like a Hollywood celebrity version of "The Circle of Life" in "The Lion King," where every creature is connected to every other one. That may have been what prompted Mike Myers - better known as a writer and star of the "Wayne's World," "Austin Powers" and "Shrek" franchises - to make his directing debut at its helm. "SuperMensch" has been winning critical raves and audience-favorite awards on the festival circuit, and was featured this week on "CBS Sunday Morning."
Recounting Shep's life and career - so far - the likely Oscar-contending documentary is part A-list celebrity gossip, part '60s flashback, part hilarious shaggy dog story and part an unlikely spiritual evolution from the excesses of the era of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll into something more like family values today.
Everyone, from movie and music icons to the Dalai Lama, fondly knows Shep. It's a variation on that parlor game connecting everyone in movies to Kevin Bacon - except this time, it's six degrees of Sheparation.
For example, Carradine, born into an acting dynasty begun by his father, John Carradine, is the uncle of Ever Carradine, who stars with Henry Ian Cusick in "Frank vs. God," a metaphysical comedy playing at 8 p.m. Friday in the festival's Seaside Cinema.
Just being on this island and reading these words puts you one degree closer to Shep. And in one of the strangest twists of all, yours truly will be onstage doing the Q&A with him Wednesday, following the screening of the film, before opening it up to questions from the audience.
Meanwhile, across the isthmus on Wednesday night, another "local boy" - Ram Dass - will be attending the 6 p.m. festival premiere of "Dying to Know," a documentary about him and Timothy Leary.
Since talking to Ram Dass in this column last week, I got a chance preview the documentary itself. Produced and directed by Gay Dillingham with narration by Robert Redford, it demolishes the stereotypes and punch lines associated with these controversial figures. Instead, it presents a fascinating narrative of two brilliant men living on the outskirts of conventional American society, who had huge under-the-radar roles in reshaping that society into the one we live in today.
Even though I thought I knew the story before, the film connected the dots in a new way, bringing to mind the old Bob Dylan lyric, "To live outside the law you must be honest." With compelling interview subjects as co-stars, the production is very polished intellectually and cinematically, and at times, very trippy.
Two more films with strong Maui roots are showing at the MACC on Sunday. "Breath of Life" screens at 5 p.m. in Castle Theater. It combines beautiful filmmaking with a sobering message about the responsibilities of living on this planet - and the role Hawaiian wisdom could play in rerouting us to a brighter future. Maui filmmakers involved include Susan Kucera, Vene Chun, Cynthia Matske, Stephen Luksic, Jay April and Eric Gilliom.
Also at 5 p.m. in the MACC's McCoy Theater, Maui filmmaker Stefan Schaefer will reveal lyrical truth and cinematic beauty in the life and work of W.S. Merwin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, better known locally as the guy with the amazing palm forest in Haiku.
Festival-goers should also note that six films - including "Begin Again" starring Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo - have changed dates, times and venues since the schedule was first published. Visit www.mauifilmfestival.com for details.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-9535.