What's Wat? And why? Those questions may arise looking at the poster for the Angkor Wat International Film Festival fundraiser coming to the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater Oct. 27 and 28. The event promises two days of movies dedicated to environmental and cultural preservation and making great music around the planet.
But what's Angkor Wat? And what does it have to do with Maui?
Answering that question connects some dots between our little piece of paradise and the exotic, impoverished, war-torn land of Cambodia.
But first, a few words about the festival. It's the creation of Emmy Award winning Maui filmmaker Dr. Tom Vendetti. It's sponsored by Maui's Mental Health Kokua. It's raising funds for next year's Angkor Wat International Film Festival in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Full disclosure calls for mentioning that I'm one of the festival's advisers and the writer of some of Tom Vendetti's films.
Beginning at noon each day, the two-hour screenings run through 8 p.m. Cinematic settings encompass Cambodia, China, Bhutan, Mount Everest, France and the U.S. Subjects stretch from the seminal "Pink Floyd - The Making of Dark Side of the Moon," to the Maui-made hippie history of "Taylor Camp," directed by Vendetti's longtime co-producer, Bob Stone.
"Ready Made," a Chinese production about the surreal careers of Mao Zedong impersonators in their homeland and Tibet has gotten recent attention from Harvard and Yale. "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" focuses on another world leader, pondering whether the Nobel Prize laureate was also a war criminal.
Cambodia is a subject of that film, along with others ranging from "Number One Brother," a powerful New Zealand documentary dealing with Khmer Rouge atrocities in the 1970s to "Small Steps," focusing on children living on a huge landfill in today's Phnom Penh.
But the program also makes room for light and music."One Day on Earth" is a music video filmed simultaneously around the planet on 10/10/10. The groundbreaking celluloid vision quest of "Baraka" concludes the program.
The program's 10 time slots guarantee the proverbial "many more" memorable features and shorts, including a preview of Vendetti's next project, "The Quietest Place on Earth." Tickets are $10 per screening, or $24 for three screenings with a bonus DVD. Applicable fees apply; details are available from the MACC, 242-7469, mauiarts.org.
But that still begs the question, What's Wat? And how do you get there from here?
In Cambodia, the word "wat" can mean temple, or school.
Several years ago Vendetti, whose day job was coordinating Maui mental health programs, was part of a team treating Sam Khong. Sam was a Cambodian exiled from his homeland, receiving treatment for depression and PTSD from Mental Health Kokua. When Sam realized he needed to return to Cambodia to search for his family he had not seen in 29 years, Mental Health Kokua raised the money to take him home.
Vendetti chronicled the journey in the emotional documentary, "Years of Darkness," which opens the MACC fundraiser. It was the first of his projects seen nationally on PBS, leading to the Emmy-winning "Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness."
Sam Khong's journey led to the building of a school in his village, after Vendetti was put in touch with Bernie Krisher, a pioneering journalist and humanitarian in the region responsible for building more than 400 schools across Cambodia. After Krisher suggested the country needed its own film festival to counteract visions in 1984's Oscar-winning "The Killing Fields," Vendetti brought it to fruition earlier this year. He named the fledgling festival after Angkor Wat, the country's national symbol and the world's largest temple complex.
Surrounded by a thousand-year-old moat, the carved stone temple walls of ancient Angkor rise from the steamy Cambodian jungle. Monkeys share living quarters with Buddhist and Hindu deities in some of the 1,000 temples sprawling over 390 miles.
Centuries-old tree trunks roots intertwine seductively with Apsara, voluptuous temple goddesses carved into the stone. The magnificent Angkor monuments are world heritage sites of timeless faith, and launch pads for new adventures, real and imaginary. Did someone say, "aliens" - ? The silent stone walls provided sets for Angelina Jolie's 2001 "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" and the signature epiphany of "Baraka."
Glimpses of ancient Angkor will appear between the films in the McCoy. Audiences may feel like they're "on the set" in that mystical spot of ancient wonder.
Better yet, they'll feel like neighbors on the same planet.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org