FESTIVALS: Maui Wowee! Festival Gets Rolling with Tim Burton and "Grass"; Council Declares Hawaiian Independence 100 years after U.S. Invasion
"The recovery of Hawaiian self-determination is not only an issue for Hawaii, but for America. Let us resolve to advance a plan for Hawaiian sovereignty."
-- Governor Ben Cayetano
The first annual Maui Film Festival (May 31-June 3) lived up to its promise of "Celestial Cinema Under the Stars," with four nights of outdoor screenings, parties and first rate culinary events held in what can only be described as true paradise -- an idyllic island setting of white sand beaches and lush tropical forests in the once-sovereign nation of Hawai'i. The 1990s marked the 100-year anniversary of the overthrow of Hawai'i's Queen Liliuokalani, who yielded "to the superior force of the United States" on Jan. 17, 1893. The islands were annexed by Congress in 1898 and became a state in 1959. In November 1993, President Clinton signed a resolution from Congress formally apologizing to Native Hawaiians for the 1893 overthrow and acknowledging its illegality, bringing to the forefront an issue that may prove to be a serious consideration for America in the years to come, as well as the source of some truly challenging cinema.
That's not to say this year's Maui Film Festival was a soapbox for films dealing with the issue over Hawaiian sovereignty -- in fact, there were no films touching on the issue, whatsoever. Instead, Maui appears to be trapped in its image as a "family destination." I am always perplexed by this idea of "family entertainment" and "family vacations" --because, I mean, whose family are they talking about anyway? Not mine. Of course, I don't have a family, which makes Hawaii a rather dangerous place to visit for a guy like me - that is, a single male -- primarily because Hawaii is still a very popular destination for young couples on their honeymoons. So when you're hanging around at the pool, the girls all have this unspoken ultra-defensive posture, strolling around in their bikinis that says, "I'm married now, dammit, so don't look at my ass!"
The more important issue at hand, however, is whether or not the Maui Film Festival holds true to its bold trademark of being the 4th installment in the Golden Quadrangle of North American film festivals: "Sundance, Telluride, Toronto, Maui." So let's see how it really stacks up. Borrowing a scientific model developed by Maxim Magazine, I have made the following assessments:
Sundance: "sex, lies, & videotape"; "The Blair Witch Project"
Maui: "Grass"; "Passion of Mind," starring Demi Moore and Demi Moore's alter ego.
Sundance: Skiing, snowboarding, power-parties
Maui: Surfing, scuba diving, sailboarding, luaus, looking at girls in bikinis
Sundance: Air, Tammy Faye Bakker
Maui: balding guys singing "Margaritaville" on acoustic guitars, hula dancers
Sundance: floorspace for $50 a night
Maui: 5 star hotels on the beach
Sundance: Robert Redford
Maui: Don Ho
Drug of Choice:
Sundance: Coke and E's
Maui: the Chronic weed and a pina colada
So it's looking pretty darn good for Maui so far, but let's take a closer look at the films -- which are, after all, the most important aspect of any good film festival. Maui played it a bit safe this year by going for a lot of classics, particularly from the silent era, like Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and Ray Smallwood's 1921 classic "Camille" -- both of which screened outdoors with live musical accompaniment (the former by the Alloy Orchestra, and the latter was held directly on the beach, with music from Les Adam). I really enjoyed the novelty of this; roughly 50% of all films screening in Maui were shown under the stars. It took me back to my childhood in the mid '70s, where the only theater in my town (an island off the coast of Texas called Port Aransas) was an outdoor screen that showed monster movies on Friday nights.
Tim Burton also seemed to appreciate the drive-in movie feel of the festival, which he noted while accepting his Silver Sword award for visionary filmmaking. Burton was in Maui, scouting locations for "Planet of the Apes," which he hopes to film there next year. A promised screening of "Edward Scissorhands" had to be scrapped however, due to projector problems. I was hoping for retrospectives on Magnum P.I, and Hawaii 5-0 that never materialized, either. And most painful of all was the omission of the special Hawaiian Brady Bunch episode in which Greg almost dies in a surfing accident. However attendees did get to see a series of silent classic shorts -- including those with Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy -- that left the packed stadium pleased.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the festival was the propensity to spice everything up with Hawaiian music. Thus, in order to see a film that was supposed to begin at 7:30, one had to endure a scheduled one and half hours of pre-show "traditional Hawaiian music." Running late, this made it impossible to attend screenings at two venues in the same evening, since the festival's other venue, the Maui Cultural Center is located more than half an hour's drive away on the other side of the island. It was also, incidentally, the venue hosting the best films: Susan Todd and Andrew Young's "Americanos: Latin Life in America"; Ron Mann's "Grass"; Todd Robinson's "Amargosa"; Doug Wolen's "Butterfly," a documentary on my favorite tree girl, Julia Butterfly; and Alex Nohe's "Burning Man: The Burning Sensation," a doc about the Burning Man festival -- all of which were clearly meant to appease the hippy element that self-righteously resides on the north side of Maui, and is apparently as adverse to visiting the Wailea resort areas on the southside of Maui as it is to bathing. They are also ripe for revolution, and don't take kindly to tourists.
Astoundingly, I was banned from attending the one film I really looked forward to seeing, a special opening night premiere of the animation film "Chicken Run" by Peter Lord and Nick Park. This was due to studio stipulations forbidding journalists from seeing the film prior to its release. Instead, I was shuffled across the island to Lahaina and sequestered at a Hawaiian theater production called "Ulalena" -- a sort of Cirque de Soleil meets The Little Mermaid tale based on the history of Maui. At first, I hated it. But it actually got interesting when it got to the part where the first Europeans arrived and started introducing guns, disease and slavery to the Hawaiians, who seemed to have been doing perfectly fine on their own. There were some interesting Marxist elements in the subtext, as well, that seemed to noticeably disturb the tourists in their Hawaiian shirts.
Closing night of the festival was much more interesting, with Bruno Barreto's Brazilian film "Bossa Nova" playing outdoors -- a cute, entertaining film a bit too sugar-coated for my tastes -- followed by a night of live Salsa music. Although, as I was informed by two lovely young Brazilian girls at the party, "We don't really listen to Salsa music in Brazil. We listen to Bossa Nova, and we don't dance so much. We just hang out and be cool."
The evils of colonization are never-ending, it seems. But as of recently, the situation is improving. Hawaii is theoretically a sovereign nation once again, since the Ohana Council declared independence from America in 1998. It's incredible to think we criticize China over Tibet and Taiwan with this kind of thing happening in our own country. At least former Governor John Waihee had the courage to ban the U.S. flag in Hawaii for a week in honor of the 100th anniversary of Queen Liliuokalani's overthrow by hostile U.S. forces. A day that marked the start of a century of injustice. It's not often that a film festival (however unintentionally) brings attention to such serious issues, so to the Maui Film Festival, I must say "Mahalo." Thank you. And see you next year. Aloha!
For more info on the Maui Film Festival, check out:
For more information on the Hawaiian separatist movement, check out:
[Richard Baimbridge is a frequent contributor to indieWIRE and an active participant in the Brooklyn Separatist Movement.]