Maui Connections

Merry Christmas! Whatever holidays you’re celebrating around the winter solstice, here’s hoping they’re full of comfort and joy.

As the holidays wind down another, uh, eventful year, today we’re filled with thoughts of gifts and gratitude. It’s one of those endless tricks of the English language so vexing for non-native speakers in the writing classes I teach at the college, that we use exactly the same word to describe a gift . . . or this exact moment . . . or just being here:


This column has received plenty of presents this year.

My good friend and filmmaking collaborator Tom Vendetti emails to say, “I had the honor of screening my new film ‘Tibetan Illusion Destroyer’ at the 16th Kathmandu International Film Festival this month. I was extremely impressed with the director of the festival, Ramyata Limbur, and her staff in the way they engaged the Nepali community and filmmakers.

“The festival attracted thousands of local people and focused on the region’s social and other pressing issues. Its theme this year was empowering women, with the slogan ‘Women Move Mountains.’

“The festival bused in hundreds of schoolchildren to watch these educational films and promoted young and veteran Nepali filmmakers’ work. A film that really caught my attention was titled ‘A Thousand Girls Like Me.’ It told the story of a 23-year-old who was raped, abused and forced to have abortions at her father’s hands. The film documented her courageous effort to seek legal justice against her father. By the way, this is a significant problem in the Nepali and surrounding region.

“I was very impressed with the festival and the way it promoted its mission and attracted a large local and international audience.”

Tom’s travels are gifts he shares through his film. Gifts come in many forms. After this morning’s blitz as you pack up the discarded wrapping paper, today presents a wonderful opportunity to remember not to take things for granted. And to remind the grandkids for the umpteenth time to say thank you.

Which reminds me, I’ve got a lot of thank-you notes to send out myself.

They go to my regular sources Cynthia Conrad, Jerry Labb, Paul Janes-Brown and Maui News Managing Editor Lee Imada, steady at the helm, for helping me pull off this crazy stunt, writing months of a local column about Maui from 2,500 miles away for the second year in a row.

Over the year, the names Kathy Collins and Willie K were frequently seen in this space, not just for their prodigious talents and endless contributions to island life, but also for Willie’s heroic fight against cancer.

Filmmaker Brian Kohne’s one-man crusade on behalf of his Maui-produced “Kuleana” was another recurring column theme as he got his film seen across the state and now on the Mainland in its rebranded version, “Maui.” Just for good measure, Brian spent the autumn helping shape the exciting new creative media program at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

The year’s best “story” in this space was the March and Concert for Our Lives at UH-MC and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center last March, sparked by the high school shootings in Florida a month earlier. For all the superstars onstage and the 5,000 audience members working to make our society safe from gun violence, it was Katie McMillan and Shep Gordon backstage and behind the scenes leading the efforts to pull off this historic, unforgettable day.

The opening of King Kekaulike High School’s state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, a place where teachers Chris Kepler and Casey Nagata will inspire future generations, was another story I was proud to report on here.

There would be lots more space to fill in this column each week if it weren’t for Art Vento, Barbara Trecker, Bob Burrichter, Neida Bangerter, Luana Argel, Lisa Haole and the rest of the mighty crew at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Thanks, too, to Clifford Nae’ole, his ohana and the wise souls he gathers each year to deepen our understanding of all things Hawaiian at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s always enlightening Celebration of the Arts. And Barry and Stella Rivers, Sharon Drayer, Lou Diliberto and the rest of the Maui Film Festival team and volunteers have my eternal thanks for reminding me whenever a new June rolls around that retirement is a myth.

This list of contributors — to this column and to island life — is a tiny tip of a very large iceberg of people I’m happy and honored to call friends. Sadly, the list got shorter this year with the passing of Fulton Tashombe and Bob Stone — but their echoes remain alive and well in the never-ending symphony of “Maui Connections.”

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at