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Maui comedy film hits theater Friday

‘Aloha Surf Hotel’ celebrates island fun; showcases local actors

Writer and director Stefan Schaefer (left) walks alongside actor and popular Hawaii comedian Augie T. during the production of “Aloha Surf Hotel,” which was shot just down the street from Regency Cinemas in Kihei as well as other locations across Maui. Surf Break Hotel LLC John Rodarte photos

A North Shore resident and filmmaker hopes to make Maui moviegoers laugh this week with a family-friendly surf comedy shot on the Valley Isle last year.

“Aloha Surf Hotel,” written and directed by Stefan Schaefer and starring local actors, will begin its Maui theatrical run Friday at Regency Cinemas in Kihei. Showtimes are at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. The cast and crew will be present for the 7 p.m. showing.

“I hope the local audience finds it really entertaining and finds ways to connect with the story, and I think they are and I think they will,” Schaefer said via phone Sunday afternoon. “I just hope people find some joy and distraction from the hardships that are all around us in terms of health issues and economic issues.

“I hope people come out of the theater with a smile on their face. That’s what I want.”

The 90-minute film stars Augie T., one of Hawaii’s favorite comedians and radio personalities and Branscombe Richmond, Native Hawaiian actor of Hollywood’s “The Scorpion King” fame, as well as rising star and Hawaii-born actress Taiana Tully.

Actor Alex Farnham (left), who plays the role of Shiv in “Aloha Surf Hotel,” consults with film director Stefan Schaefer.

Frank B. Shaner and Kathy Collins, well-known local radio personalities, YouTube star Alex Farnham from Hawaii island, Oahu’s Shawn Mokuahi Garnett of “Hawaii 5-0” and Matt Corboy of “Descendants” are also featured in the island comedy.

Producers of “Aloha Surf Hotel” include Brian Kohne (award-winning writer and director of the made-on-Maui film “Kuleana”), Jon Stern and Keith Quinn.

In an email, Kohne said he is “grateful to begin the theatrical journey of the film right down the street from where it was shot” at the Regency Cinemas, which has a reduced capacity of 45 people due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Moviegoers are also required to wear face masks in all areas of the building except while seated and maintain six feet of social distancing.

“I’ve spent a bunch of time down at Hookipa surfing and with my kids, so just spending time down there, I’ve met a lot of people, surfers, ex-pro surfers,” said Schaefer, who has lived on Maui for 11 years with his family. “I always thought this would be, you know, there’s a lot of colorful characters in that world, I thought it would be funny to put an ex-pro surfer at the center of the story, who’s now sort of struggling, middle-aged, and he’s forced to take a job at a struggling beach hotel teaching obnoxious tourists how to surf.”

Originally pitched as a television series, Schaefer said he adapted the script as a feature film after receiving funding from GVS Accelerator on Hawaii island. He said that he had Augie T. in mind as the central character while writing the screenplay, saying that he’s “hilarious but he’s also a really good dramatic actor and can play the emotional beats also.”

Shot entirely on Maui including at Nona Lani Cottages in Kihei, Kihei Charter School, Kanaha beach and other locations in Central Maui, the production got the whole community involved.

“It’s always great to shoot a movie here on Maui because if you do it well and you involve the community, you just get a lot of love and you can have a really enjoyable time,” he said. “It’s not a huge budget film and we were on a tight schedule, but we hired so many people from Maui and so many people supported us, starting from the set to the extras.”

“Aloha Surf Hotel” was the third feature film done locally, he said, so it was “nice bringing the family back together.”

“This was really a great production in terms of the dynamic on set with the cast and crew,” he added.

When the film was completed June 18 after about five years of work, Schaefer said the original plan was to show “Aloha Surf Hotel” at the Maui Film Festival this summer followed by its release into theaters with Cineworld’s Regal Cinemas in July, showing in venues in Hawaii, California, Las Vegas, Nev., and Guam.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of the film festival as well as the temporary suspension of Regal Theatres’ operations nationwide.

“Aloha Surf Hotel” did not become available until October via online outlets, at socially distant drive-ins on Oahu through the Hawaii International Film Festival and a few showings at Consolidated Theaters in Mililani.

“We have really good feedback coming out of the film festival. We’ve had some really good reviews and we know the film works for a local audience,” he said. “I think there are a lot of ways for audiences on the Mainland and internationally to see it just because it’s centered here in Hawaii and people love Hawaii– there are local characters at the heart of the story and you know there’s also characters visiting Hawaii that are in the film.”

Schaefer said he flew to Oahu for the film’s premiere at the drive-in theater and “really got a sense of how the audience appreciated it.” The theatrical opening of films has definitely changed due to the pandemic, he said, leaving many theaters a “no-go” and opportunities on hold.

Nonetheless, Schaefer said “I hope it brings joy to people and that people laugh, especially during this strange time we’re in.”

To purchase tickets, visit regencymovies.com or call 891-1016 for more information.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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