Maui Connections

On the brink of its 20th anniversary return to Wailea Resort and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center June 12-16, Maui Film Festival has assembled a galaxy of honorees — one of its strongest ever — and many are bringing their new films with them to the Celestial Cinema.

This morning’s Maui News announced that multifaceted muscleman Joe Maganiello will accept the 2019 Maui Film Festival’s Shooting Star Award from his wife, hilarious Emmy nominee Sofia Vergara, followed by the world premiere of their new drama, “Bottom of the 9th.”

Actress Awkwafina will follow her June 15 Shining Star tribute with the premiere of her new film, “The Farewell.” Brilliant comic actor Paul Rudd was the first honoree announced. His Nova Award tribute opens the festival June 12. He’s not bringing a new film, but can be seen — in virtually any megaplex across the U.S. — in the record-shattering “Avengers: Endgame.”

And there are more announcements to come, with one huge name waiting in the wings, I’m told.

Festival founder and director Barry Rivers is also firming up the schedule of screenings.

“Becoming Nobody,” a new documentary about world-renowned Haiku holy man Ram Dass featured in this column a few weeks ago, now has a time slot: It kicks off this year’s Castle Theater offerings at 7:30 p.m. June 14.

“We Rise Up,” a documentary featuring folks ranging from the Dalai Lama and Richard Branson to Michael Franti offering encouraging messages about doing our parts to make the world better, will play at 7:30 on closing night in Castle Theater.

The closing-night Father’s Day Celestial Cinema bill begins with the world premiere of Mike Waltze’s “This Excellent Life” at 8, featuring “40 years of rare and never-before-seen footage of the innovators and icons of Maui’s extreme sports evolution.” It will be followed by “Echo of the Canyon,” featuring Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and many more iconic musical artists in Andrew Slater’s concert doc about “the birth of the California sound.”

For the latest Maui Film Festival developments, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.

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“Imagine walking through a forest of palm trees with fronds larger than yourself, or sitting on a hilltop overlooking a canopy of palms with the bluest ocean in the distance, listening to the sublime poetry of the late William S. Merwin.”

During my time off-island, which has stretched a lot longer than expected with our daughter’s family in Arizona, Cynthia Conrad and her husband, Jerry Labb, have been valued sources, my eyes on the ground, taking this column to countless events and happenings on the Valley Isle. But a recent visit to the palm forest William and his wife, the late Paula Merwin, created — got their creativity flowing in its own poetic direction.

Here’s their report:

Guided by Executive Director Sonnet Coggins, Vice President Mary Lock and board member Susan Kean, this is what we experienced at the Merwin Conservancy in Haiku recently. Along with guests Colleen O’Shea Brady and Jeanne Skog, we were led along peaceful paths where individual palms were pointed out, Latin names were effortlessly spoken and origins of rare palms were described.

Stopping to rest in quiet places, Sonnet (an apropos name) read poems by Merwin which put us into a state of wonder and astonishment, perhaps like William Merwin himself, contemplating the lush, 19-acre palm garden with over 3,000 individual palm trees and more than 400 species he had planted.

Merwin began with native plants in a harsh landscape, but he let the land make the decision and found that palm trees flourished in the aina. A place of stillness and reflection, the living forest the Merwins created remains a source of fascination and inspiration.

Small, intimate, private tours of W. S. Merwin’s Palm Garden, which take place monthly, may be arranged on the conservancy website (merwinconservancy.org). Schoolchildren who have visited the garden have written poems about the experience. Anyone who is privileged to visit this important collection is renewed by the mix of nature and the power of imagination.

Outside of visiting the forest itself, the Merwin Conservancy offers The Green Room lecture series at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Theater every couple of months, and is beginning to formulate ideas for fundraising and other special events. The stewards and caretakers encourage volunteers and engagement in perpetuating the dream so this palm paradise may thrive for future generations.

“Birdsong filled the air as we listened to a poem titled “The Laughing Thrush,” the last lines of which are:

“here is where they all sing the first daylight whether or not there is anyone listening”

* 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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