Maui Connections

Forget magic mushrooms. That concept — accompanied by images of ’60s-style woodland sylphs wandering through meadows seeing rainbows around every tree — is so last century, a vestige of a bygone millennium.

It’s been replaced, subsumed really, by “Fantastic Fungi.” The magical visions are still there, but so is an amazing list of other earth-improving properties attributed to these forms of fungus right beneath our feet. And now, the people singing their praises are distinguished scientists, physicians and other innovative thinkers.

“Fantastic Fungi,” a documentary directed by cinematic time-lapse magician Louie Schwarzberg, will open the 2019 Maui Film Festival at Wailea, the festival announced last week. It will screen at 8 p.m. June 12 at the Celestial Cinema.

Just watching the trailer (www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxVa4GxNh7A&feature=youtu.be) is a quick antidote for a sinking sense of our world out of balance. Accompanied by Shwarzberg’s jaw-dropping imagery, interview subjects discuss mushrooms’ possible benefits not only for mental and physical health, but for environmental challenges, like cleaning up oil spills.

Fungi’s underground network of mycelia resemble a nervous system, or connections on the internet. Dr. Andrew Weil, a participant in Maui Grown Therapies’ third annual Medical Cannabis Symposium recently, is one of the interview subjects in the film.

The announcement of the opening-night premiere was made in honor of Earth Day, highlighting Maui Film Festival’s tradition of bringing positive environmental messages on the big screen. This is the 20th anniversary for the festival, which returns June 12-16 to Wailea’s Celestial Cinema and resorts, as well as the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Festival Director Barry Rivers and Co-Director and PR Director Ben Goodman are busily collecting the pieces and assembling the jigsaw puzzle to make it all happen. It’s shaping up to be a memorable year, they tell me, with lots of soulful and thought-provoking films from around the world, and a full slate of celebrity honorees already confirmed.

Although he doesn’t fit the usual mold of a “movie star,” the festival will be bringing back its go-to guy whose films have drawn crowds whenever the festival screened them: world-renowned spiritual author, teacher and longtime Haiku resident Ram Dass.

Director Jamie Catto’s “Becoming Nobody,” a fresh look at the Haiku holy man’s life and teachings, will have its world premiere in Castle Theater (its date is not yet set).

“Ram Dass has led a multifaceted life,” says a press release for the documentary. “Whether as Richard Alpert, the eminent Harvard psychologist, or as Ram Dass, who serves as a bridge between Eastern and Western philosophies, he has defined a generation of inner explorers and seekers of truth and wisdom. Through his turns as scion of an eminent Jewish family from Boston, rock star Harvard psychologist, counter-culture rascally adventurer, Eastern holy man, stroke survivor and compassionate caregiver, Ram Dass has worn many hats on his journey, the narrative of which is revealed in this film.”

Many of us have had the joyful honor of crossing paths with the 88-year-old sage since a 2003 health setback made him unable to leave the island. He’s usually dressed surfer-style these days, in shorts, and a T-shirt or aloha shirt. In his beach wheelchair on one of his weekly Kihei swims, he once described himself to me as a “Maui boy,” the twinkle in his eye as bright as ever.

“Becoming Nobody” breaks fresh ground telling the story of his enlightening evolution backward from the conventional Western version of success. It features disarming, often humorous conversations with filmmaker Catto in Ram Dass’ serene Haiku living room. It balances his tranquility of his being here now as he nears 90 with lots of footage of his younger self, when his mind was still laser quick, and his lessons were accompanied by self-deprecating wit, often at the expense of his not-yet-tamed ego.

Getting to take a few more steps with him on his journey promises to be a highlight of this year’s festival.

One of many.

For more details, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com, and watch for announcements of honorees in The Maui News in coming weeks.

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Films will also be on the program at a concert by world-renowned, Grammy-nominated Tibetan flute player Nawang Khechog with special guest Keola Beamer at 3 p.m. Sunday in McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC.

The film portion of the program features “Supermonk,” winner of the audience award at the Kathmandu International Film Festival. It’s described as “a touching adventure between two children who form an unlikely bond based on compassion and innocence.” Nawang Khechog’s film, “Sound of Tibet and Peace,” will also screen, chronicling his departure from Tibet, his becoming a monk and his musical career.

For tickets and details, visit mauiarts.org/event-detail.php?id=799.

* 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 rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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