Maui's winter film festival sparkles with gems
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
FirstLight, Maui's jewel of a film festival, lights up like a Christmas tree Wednesday, with 57 films to be shown over 17 days excluding Christmas Eve and Day.
"We show the best films, the best time of the year, at the best place," said Barry Rivers, founder-director of the winterfest that's decked out with a cluster of award-winning films from festivals earlier in the year. And, yes, there will be likely front-runners in next year's Academy Awards, when Mauians, some die-hards from the Neighbor Islands and a contingent of Hollywood types gather to watch movies in what Rivers says is the best venue Castle Theatre at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
"It's got the biggest screen of any theater in Hawai'i 41 by 27 feet and terrific (Dolby) sound," he said.
Now in its ninth year, FirstLight has star power, too, but the names are deliberately kept beneath the radar. Asked if there were mentionables actors, directors, any notables who might provide buzz in the house, Rivers said: "The people asked that (their presence) be kept quiet."
Rivers was speaking from Kahului airport last Friday, bound for a flight to Las Vegas, where he was to speak at the International Film Festival Summit at Lake Las Vegas last weekend. Like an eager-beaver Santa, his shopping for films was done; and surprisingly, he got everything on his festival wish list.
"We were able to get the Bob Dylan film, 'I'm Not There' (featuring six actors, including Richard Gere, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett, portraying the musician at different times of his life); and 'Grace Is Gone,' the John Cusack film (about a man whose wife is serving in Iraq while he faces the challenges of raising two young daughters alone, with a tragic twist)."
By his count, FirstLight boasts 28 Hawai'i premieres.
The festival also collates some popular and worthy previously released films, and also sheds light on some neglected films.
"FirstLight has changed in the last four or five years," he said. "The way films are released also has changed. You can release stuff in February ... and still win the Oscars. So now, the best releases are spread throughout the year, not just a year's end, in the fall or winter. 'Crash' was a good example a film that was out that we brought back, and it won (the Oscar for best picture)."
Rivers said the festival name, FirstLight, refers to "light passing through film the first time." Now, there's a second chance to see older and new films at year's end.
Along with the array of movies, FirstLight also is a spectacular party, Rivers said, with live music, dinner, dessert and complimentary massages at the Candlelight Cafe, from 5 p.m. before the 7:30 p.m. screenings. Stella Rivers, wife of Barry, is behind the party experience.
"We're ready to rock," Rivers said of the festival launch. He returns to Maui Monday, after a Florida detour to belatedly wish his mom a happy birthday, but in plenty of time for Wednesday's kickoff.
THERES BUZZ ON JUNO, A DRAMEDY
Barry Rivers, founder-director of the Maui Film Festival and its winter sister festival, FirstLight, said his crystal ball can't easily pick out the best flick of the picks.
However, he said that "Juno," a dramedy that's a comedy with dramatic elements should create big buzz and even could have Oscar possibilities.
" 'Juno' is going a long way; it's smart, wonderful, funny and thoughtful, and it hits the hot-button issues" about a real-life predicament: pregnancy among unwed teens.
Straight from a rare standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival, "Juno" was directed by Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking") and features Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney in the tale of a teenager who embarks on a search for the "perfect" parents for her unborn child.
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.