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Maui Connections

Newspaper columnists’ beats may change, but old habits don’t.

All those years editing Maui Scene and Currents must have rewired my brain. When the end of another December rolls around, it’s time for My Favorite Movies of the Year list, along with the year-in-review wrapup.

Granted, this column was supposed to wean me from writing about movies. Writing about real people – as opposed to the reel kine – turned out to be fun, too.

Initially I tried to bridge the gap with movies from a local perspective. That was easy when a couple of Maui guys – Shep Gordon and Ram Dass – were both subjects of documentary films featured at last summer’s Maui Festival in Wailea and at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

The column also kept tabs on movies actually being made or contemplated here in the islands, by folks like Brian Kohne, Stefan Schaefer, Keo Woolford, Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier, Eric Gilliom, Jonathan Yudis, Don Lane and my longtime collaborators Tom Vendetti and Robert C. Stone.

What’s in the island’s filmmaking future? A new studio? Run by serious Hollywood players? Stay tuned.

Besides artists who make moving pictures, I got to tag along with many of the island’s best at the still kind. Photographers like Randy Braun, Matthew Thayer, Tony Novak-Clifford, Don Bloom, Aubrey Hord and Bob Bangerter are just a few who can do with a single click what I struggle to match with 1,000 – well, 800 – words each week.

The column also tried to make room for lots of music through the year, created by angels among us including Amy Haniali’i, Keali’i Reichel, Mick Fleetwood, Laura Civitello, Brooks Maguire and the lineup of the Maui Ukulele Festival.

Although I don’t get around much . . . well, as much – anymore – The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s Celebration of the Arts and last June’s Maui Film Festival along with Art Vento, Barbara Trecker, Neida Bangerter and the rest of the MACC staff kept providing things to write about.

Memorable events in 2014 included assorted hurricanes, the Wearable Art Show and TEDxMaui at the MACC and the launch of the Maui Comedy Festival in Lahaina over Halloween weekend.

. . . Which doesn’t begin to describe all the amazing places – including Tucson, Ariz. – this column went in 2014.

For all the artists and creative souls who have found their way into this space, it’s been more fun shining the spotlight on equally remarkable folks, like the ones in my English 100 classes at the college, the ones behind the counters at Longs, Pukalani Ace Hardware, the Kula Post Office or all my swimming pals from Pukalani to Baldwin and Makena.

* * *

Which brings us back to the movies – I’ve got to pay my membership dues in Barry Wurst’s secret society of island film reviewers. These lists are always subjective and arbitrary, and frequently lacking in any rhyme or reason whatsoever. Under no circumstances should they be taken very seriously – even if you hedge your bet by calling them your favorites rather than The Best.

Maybe a film features a great acting performance, or great script, or cinematography . . . or, in rare cases, all of the above. Maybe the movie touches you in ways you can’t explain. My list includes “A Most Wanted Man,” for example, just because it marks a farewell to one of the greatest actors of our age, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Saying goodbye to Robin Williams was even harder this movie year.

There are a number of movies yet to be seen in the runup to the Oscars – “Selma,” “Life Itself,” “American Sniper,” “Foxcatcher” and “Still Alice” among them. “The Interview,” not. The movies that did make the list are more or less in order of preference. The first two are sort of a tie. I’d be happy to see either of them take home lots and lots of statues at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards ceremonies.

1. “Birdman”

2. “Boyhood”

3. “Chef”

4. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

5. “Supermensch.”

6. “Begin Again”

7. “Gone Girl”

8. “Nighrcrawler”

9. “A Most Wanted Man”

10. Can’t decide between “Whiplash,” “Interstellar,” “Wild,” “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game” and “Into the Woods.”

*****

To all of you whose names wound up in this space over 2014, I send my deep thanks for all the items, feedback and good cheer you’ve contributed to this column – not to mention, all your help teaching me how to write it.

Polls say folks are feeling more hopeful about 2015.

Meet you back here, same time, same place, next week to start making it a happy new year together.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary film scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Christmas doesn’t arrive in the islands on Santa’s sleigh. For some, it touches down on the wings of Learjets.

The sleek, white private jets on the other side of the OGG runway are like our version of holiday ornaments. Yes, Virginia, jet-setters actually exist. And there’s no place like Maui for the holidays.

Some of those jets have arrived from Southern California, where their passengers are movers and shakers in the film industry. When Maui Film Festival Director Barry Rivers first conceived of the FirstLight Academy Screenings in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center 15 years ago, he had those people in mind.

In those pre-DVD or online-screener days, Academy Award voters still had to watch potential Oscar nominees on film in theaters. Barry sagely convinced the studios to send the best and brightest of their awards contenders over to the MACC so academy voters could work the previews into their Maui vacations. The silver lining in that playbook was that all the local folks got to watch, too.

FirstLight roars back in earnest Friday, the day after Christmas, with “Timbuktu” at 2 p.m.; “The Color of Time” at 5 p.m.; “Song One” at 7:30 p.m.; and “Dear White People” at 9:30 p.m. Saturday’s lineup features “Rosewater” at 2 p.m.; “Glen Campbell I’ll Be Me” at 5 p.m.; “The Gambler” at 7:30 p.m.; and “Keep on Keepin’ On” at 9:30 p.m.

On Sunday it’s “Beloved Sisters” at 2 p.m.; “My Old Lady” at 5 p.m.; “Black or White” at 7:30 p.m.; and “Beyond the Lights” at 9:30 p.m. Monday’s lineup begins with “Interstellar” at 1 p.m.; “Kill the Messenger” at 5 p.m.; and “A Most Violent Year” at 7:30 p.m. And on Tuesday it’s “Nightcrawler” at 2 p.m.; “CitizenFour” at 5 p.m.; and “You’re Not You” at 7:30 p.m.

Next week, the schedule resumes the day after New Year’s. Check www.mauifilmfestival.com for details and previews.

Starting my own FirstLight binging with Tommy Lee Jones’ new Western, “The Houseman,” last Sunday, I ran into a bunch of old friends – Rich and Inger Tully, Darrell and Mary Orwig, John Eckhart and Karen Fischer. Running into friends is almost as much of a FirstLight holiday tradition as watching great movies.

I don’t know if there were any jet-setters among us. These days, I imagine it might be nice to be able to get out of Hollywood for a while. When hackers first breached Sony Pictures and began releasing very private personal emails between executives and filmmakers, it was a huge embarrassment for all concerned, with reverberations rippling through the industry.

When the hackers were revealed to be North Koreans and Sony decided to scrap its Christmas release of “The Interview” – a satire about the assassination of that country’s dictator – it became an economic disaster.

When the president weighed in on the matter, it became an international incident, followed by saber-rattling that was still going on as this column was being written.

Sony’s decision – in response to theater chains not wanting to be liable if an act of terrorism actually occurred in their theaters in conjunction with the film’s release – was decried as an act of poor judgment by the president. A who’s who of Hollywood A-listers was quick to tweet about the studio’s “caving in” to the threat, calling this a serious undermining of the freedom of expression that’s the very foundation of our democracy.

Uh, really? The last collaboration between the stars of “The Interview” – Seth Rogen, who also directed, and James Franco – was on a silly comedy called “This is The End,” in which the apocalypse strikes L.A., but everyone on-screen is too stoned to notice or care very much.

On one hand, the Hollywood establishment is insisting on the freedom of expression to put whatever it wants into theaters, no matter the risk to the public. On the other, it’s calling for the media to practice self-censorship when it comes to revealing the snide, condescending and borderline racist content of hacked emails from some of the most powerful people in the business.

End-of-year entertainment stories have long been a media staple – they just don’t usually run on the front page or lead the nightly news.

It’s been pointed out that Sony Pictures couldn’t have mounted a better marketing campaign for “The Interview” if it had tried . . . if it’s not actually behind this one. Seth and James couldn’t have written a better script.

It kind of makes you long for the days when Christmas movies had something to do with Santa Claus, and left it at that.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary film scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

It took great writer and former Maui girl Lee Cataluna only a handful of words to sum up so much of the essence of modern island life with the title of her short-story collection: “Folks You Meet at Longs.”

For all the events and institutions that have provided gathering places for Maui culture over the years, Longs is the humblest. But it belongs on the list.

There’s still something personal, comforting and endearing about Longs, even if it’s only a matter of time before the sign in front changes to one saying CVS. A lot of the people who work there have this uncanny knack for making you feel like they’re actually happy to see you. Even the corporate culture feels positive, as reflected in the recent decision to stop selling cigarettes. It’s human, healthy and common-sensical, a throwback to old Maui – and an alternative to cutthroat, bottom-line corporate cynicism.

Lee’s title set the scene for my own little encounter last Friday at the pharmacy counter in Pukalani. I was there to pick up a prescription for my wife and so was Jim Mclemore, better known all over Maui for decades as Jimmy Mac, leader of the island’s pre-eminent party band, the Kool Kats.

Jim is great guy to talk story with. In light of our surroundings, the conversation quickly turned to medical matters, and we began comparing our own recent experiences, like people start doing when they reach a certain age. Then Craig Smith – a friend I regularly swim with at the nearby Upcountry Pool – showed up to make it a trio.

It must have looked like a gathering of geezers to the staff behind the counter, or to U’ilani Seki, one of my English 100 students at the University of Hawaii Maui College. A convening of gray foxes, picking up our pills.

The historical significance of the moment wasn’t lost on any of us. “We’re in the fourth quarter for sure,” said Jimmy. “Yeah, but we’re still throwing touchdowns,” ventured Craig.

Well, still in the game, at least. I had just seen the movie “Interstellar,” which entails revising our conventional wisdom when it comes to things like gravity, space and time. A prescription to turn time around is probably what we’re subconsciously longing for when we take the Longs way home. In the meantime, we all make do with adding our own little chapters to Lee Cataluna’s book.

In this holiday season, Longs isn’t the only Upcountry spot that could pass for a community center. The Kula Post Office is a great one, all year long. As opposed to all the stress that goes into readying presents for Mainland relatives (being inherently Scroogelike myself, I leave all that to my wife), the folks behind the counter are as cheerful and helpful as Santa’s helpers. The Kula P.O. is also the perfect place to run into friends like Jeanette Evans, Jon Woodhouse or Neida Bangerter.

Speaking of “Interstellar,” the holidays are also movie season. Meeting Maui film critic Barry Wurst recently, it was a pleasure to find a kindred spirit to compare notes with. Our meeting came fortuitously a few days before the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced this year’s Golden Globes field – a harbinger of likely Oscar nominees to be announced next month.

Considering that I don’t see as many movies as I used to, it was heartening to see two of my favorites of the year – “Boyhood” and “Birdman” – leading the pack. It’s been a memorable movie year for British talent and American psychos (Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler,” J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” and Rosamund Pike, who’s English, actually, in “Gone Girl.) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Theory of Everything” were on my list too.

But Hollywood release patterns dictate that some of the year’s best films are yet to come. To keep us in the loop, Maui Film Festival’s FirstLight Academy Screenings return to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Sunday. FirstLight creator Barry Rivers called to clue me in on Sunday’s dazzling triple feature.

It begins with “Boyhood” – writer/director Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making, coming-of-age masterpiece co-starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; followed at 5 p.m. with “The Houseman,” a Western directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones with Hilary Swank; and at 7:30 p.m. with “Cake,” featuring Jennifer Aniston as you’ve never seen her before.

At 7:30 p.m. Monday, FirstLight is presenting “Pride,” about the unlikely bonds between miners and gay and lesbian activists spawned by a mining strike in a Welsh village. Check www.mauifilmfestival.com for next week’s schedule.

For those without other travel plans, FirstLight Globe-hopping is always a fine way to spend the holidays.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary film scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

My friend and neighbor Randy Braun took me flying over Kula on Saturday morning.

The view was great. When you live 2,500 feet up the slopes of a volcano, you sometimes feel like a bird anyway, but the ability to soar over treetops adds an extra dimension – like Superman.

It’s an exhilarating sensation – especially when your feet never actually leave the ground.

After establishing himself as one of the island’s most visionary photographers shooting images from hand-tinted sepia hula dancers and Makawao paniolo to magical landscapes from Hana to the Maui Film Festival’s Celestial Cinema to Venice, Italy, Randy has branched out in recent years.

Along with former Maui film commissioner Harry Donenfeld, he has become an ace pilot in the new technology of drone image-making, utilizing small remotely-controlled helicopters equipped with tiny cameras to capture images from the sky.

Randy parlayed his fascination and talents mastering this new art form into a new career as director of product experience for the China-based company DJI (www.DJI.com). DJI is a leader in developing drones for personal as well as professional use.

A lot of us know Randy as one of the swimming regulars at the Upcountry Pool in Pukalani. These days between trips to the pool, he’s liable to have been to China or a city from one coast to the other on the Mainland.

Although drones have been in the news for a variety of reasons lately – in some cases raising questions about airline safety or privacy concerns – Randy and his company are advocates for responsible use. DJI drones have built-in software that won’t even let them turn on their motors within a certain distance of an airport or any other no-fly zone. Their drone fleet ranges from one no larger than the palm of your hand all he way up to the Inspire, a Star Wars-looking, state-of-the-art prototype, which has retractable landing gear and fires its images back to an iPad on the pilot’s control panel.

The commercial possibilities of drones are as rich as the artistic ones – from delivering mail, Netflix DVDs and small amazon.com packages, through search-and-rescue missions all the way up to monitoring agricultural production.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to imagining what these things can be used for. Utilizing GPS from whatever satellites are in the vicinity, the technology feels like some sort of alchemy, enabling drones to not only stay steady and hover in the wind, but to find their own way home.

The best way to get what drones are all about is to actually fly one, which is what Randy had me do on the Kula Elementary School playing field that bright blue morning. I flew the whole fleet actually. It didn’t take long to win over even a technoskeptic like myself with how easy it is – and how instantly addicting.

(Are you listening, Santa?)

It’s not every day you get an angel’s point of view of life on Earth. It’s an extra special gift this time of year.

We didn’t want to invade anyone’s airspace, which was difficult Saturday. Upcountry was happening!

The Upcountry Farmers Market continues to be not only a place to get fresh produce, food items and trees, but also new agricultural knowledge and a sense of community in the cheery little tent city that pops up once a week in the parking lot near Longs in Pukalani.

Meanwhile, Haleakala Waldorf School was holding its Holiday Faire just across the highway from us. I was sorry to miss this annual event – not only for the crafts, food and student entertainment, but for the spell it casts.

The picturesque Haleakala campus is part traditional Maui plantation architecture and part pure fairyland. Imagination is a cornerstone of the school’s educational philosophy, along with a commitment – increasingly rare in our culture – to letting kids be kids, and honoring their innocence.

Later that afternoon, affable singer/songwriter Brooks Maguire christened a potential new Upcountry music venue, presenting a free concert in the Waipuna Chapel Amphitheater.

Backed by a tight band featuring Tom Hall, Benny Uyetake, Jamie Gallo, Michael Kennedy, Christopher Hightower, Craig Simecheck, Sonshine Rivers and Joshua Rugg, Brooks shared songs from his new CD, “The Road I Never Chose.”

Christian motifs recurred through the lyrics – the religious message was welcoming, inclusive and mostly along the lines of just love everyone. The church on the hillside, happy kids clamoring on a play structure and sunlight slanting through the trees behind the stage provided the backdrop for Brooks’ hopeful lyrics as the band happily rocked out behind him.

It was a just-right ending for a sky-high Kula Saturday.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary film scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com or 344-9535.

Maui Connections

Homes in Tucson, Ariz., have gravel for lawns and more shapes and sizes of cactus than you can imagine.

Last week when the University of Arizona basketball team was busy winning the Maui Invitational, my wife, Karen, and I did a sort of exchange program, traveling to Tucson to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter’s family. They’ve relocated there from Montana since my last Maui News travel story.

My only other visit to Tucson had been on a movie junket in 1986 to interview the stars – Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short – of the wacky Western “Three Amigos.” We stayed in a swanky resort in the foothills on the outskirts of town. In the years since, the wide streets and modern adobe architecture have sprawled out in all directions, with the population now well over a half-million.

There’s something timeless and welcoming about the Southwest. The whole region has the inviting warmth and glow of a fireplace. From the outside, the architecture is earth-toned and squats close to the ground, but inside, the colors are exuberant, like mirrors of the pastel hues streaking the sky at sunset. Boasting 350 days of sunshine a year, the cobalt-blue skies are framed by jagged ridges of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north.

Especially at the Thanksgiving time of year, the air feels crisp and clear, going up to 80 degrees some afternoons – like the one when the Arizona Wildcats beat the Arizona State Sun Devils for the Territorial Bowl in a state that takes its sports seriously. The university football stadium is huge, but then again, so is the University of Arizona campus, with a population of close to 40,000. At night, which gets dark quickly when the sun disappears behind the mountains, the afternoon heat can quickly fall into the 30s.

In a little more than a week, whose agenda was largely set by nap schedules and attention spans of three very young grandchildren, we still got a taste of what an interesting, happening place Tucson is.

VRBO and GPS go a long way to making a new place feel manageable and homey, even if Siri kept losing patience when I’d blaze my own trails that she kept having to reroute (“Turn left . . . turn left!”).

Transportation into the bustling, creative downtown core can be provided by an ultramodern electric trolley; a $4 pass lets you ride for 24 hours. Our first destination, Children’s Museum Tucson, just happened to be next to the finish line of the Tour de Tucson, a bicycle race that drew 10,000 colorfully clad cyclists whose ranks this year included former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

The next day we were back downtown for an arts-and-crafts fair sprawling out for blocks around the Tucson Museum of Art. Shutting down city blocks for fairs and festivals was a weekly occurrence during our stay.

Another morning we got fed and educated at an “edible shade pancake breakfast,” where the pancakes were made from the pods of mesquite trees. It took place at the Watershed Management Group’s Living Lab and Learning Center, which was full of other primitive/ultramodern solutions to sustainability, accompanied by old-timey string-band music.

The sunbaked and seemingly unforgiving surroundings are actually home to cultures and histories dating back hundreds of years. South of the city limits, just off the interstate, Mission San Xavier del Bak dates back to 1692. The current church was completed in 1797. Its exuberant Spanish Colonial Baroque architecture and elaborate artworks and statues inside the chapel make you feel you have stepped back three centuries to a European edifice rising from the desert.

In Tucson itself, the stately Arizona Inn hearkens back to more recent history – the 1930s – when Arizona Congresswoman Isabella Greenway thought the city needed “a sophisticated desert retreat giving its guests comfort, privacy, quiet and sunshine.”

A variety of restaurants – mostly Mexican – kept us going on our explorations. Penca downtown was our first stop for innovative Mexico City cuisine. The tacos came in unexpected flavors, in a very hip and modern urban ambiance around its International Bar.

For carryout, Tucson Tamale Company is state of the art, with Thanksgiving turkey added to the list of choices the week we were there. Seis Cafe, located on an open-air courtyard behind the more upscale Augustin Kitchen, also offered authentic regional selections at very reasonable prices. And Mariscos Chihuahua brings its seafood in daily for tastes and an overall experience reminiscent of Mazatlan.

Ten days is hardly time to know a place, but enough time to feel welcome and comfortable and eager to discover what surprises the next trip holds.

* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary film scriptwriter. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com or 344-9535.

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