Maui Connections

Opening-nighters are going to get “Stuffed” at the Maui Film Festival at Wailea.

The festival announced that it will show Erin Durham’s documentary about the art of taxidermy as its second feature at the Celestial Cinema June 12, following the documentary “Fantastic Fungi: Magic Beneath Our Feet” about the awesome powers of mushrooms.

The colorful trailer for “Stuffed” rights a number of common misconceptions. It shows that this art form is all about life, not death, and its creators are healthy, happy naturalists rather than Norman Bates in “Psycho.” Coupled with the mushroom doc, the evening’s screen theme is a celebration of nature’s wonders.

The announcement that versatile comedy actor and “Ant-Man” superhero Paul Rudd will receive the Nova Award at the Celestial Cinema on June 12 completes the opening-night schedule in Wailea. The festivities kick off at 5 p.m. with the Taste of Summer reception on the scenic grounds of the Grand Wailea resort. We still remember the unannounced appearance of Goldie Hawn at the 2016 festival, to see her son Wyatt Russell receive the Rising Star Award.

While the Taste of Summer offers a delicious way of getting stuffed, I can’t shake thoughts about the powers of taxidermy to put its subjects into a state of being frozen in the headlights . . . forever. The critters’ glass-eyed gazes remind me of my own face on more than one occasion, sharing the Celestial Cinema stage with several festival luminaries for their awards tributes.

My debut in the festival’s signature venue came in 2015 with Adam Driver. I met him 30 seconds before we stepped onto the stage together. Most of what I knew about him at the time was that he was on the HBO series “Girls” that I had never seen; and he was an ex-Marine who had gone on to Julliard. He was a big guy, hopefully not a moody method kind of actor.

He would soon hit the A-list as Kylo Ren in the soon-to-be-released “Star Wars: Episode VII.” That seemed a safe place to begin the interview.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” deadpanned the eventual Oscar nominee. Oh, right, everyone involved in the J.J. Abrams-directed epic had been sworn to secrecy.

Oops, reboot. “If you tell me, you’ll have to kill me, right?” I quipped. The interview quickly turned hilarious and stayed that way to the end.

There’s a unique quality to Celestial Cinema interviews. Night has fallen by the time they begin, the big bowl of sky over your head is black and balmy. But because of the lights for the video cameras filming the session and projecting it on the huge screen behind you, you can’t see that audience of several thousand people watching you.

It’s like, uh, being in a movie . . . co-starring with some of the most gorgeous people on the planet.

The time with Adam Driver had felt more like a comedy routine than an interview. I was feeling pretty confident when I returned to the stage two nights later . . . right up until I locked eyes with the honoree and got totally lost in the ethereal face of Laura Dern. I have no idea how I made it through that one. Although the sublime actress thanked me for the “lovely questions” at the end, it wasn’t until I looked at Matthew Thayer’s photos and listened to the interview tape that I realized that it had actually gone just fine. I might have been the deer in the headlights, but she was, and is, a consummate actress, after all.

The following year when I met Navigator Award honoree Bryan Cranston at a festival party, he said, “I hope you’re working on your questions. I’m already up to number three.”

“I prefer to wing it,” I told him. He gave me the Walter White once-over before saying, “I don’t like ‘What’s your favorite color?’ questions.”

“I don’t either,” I answered. “I’m more of a meaning-of-life kind of guy.”

That same year sitting on the stage, I answered yes when Navigator honoree Viola Davis asked if she could “cuss” as she told a story of working with her co-star and director Denzel Washington on “Fences” that would win her an Oscar a few months later.

The punchline to the story included a word never read in family newspapers and rarely heard in polite conversation, much less in front of an audience of several thousand.

“Well, that’s a first,” I said.

I’m sure there will be plenty more firsts when Maui Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary June 12-16 at the Wailea Resort and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. For more details visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.

* 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.