Cinema Paradise

22 BKLOT Maui Film Festvival
Randy Jay Braun for Maui Film Festival

The scene at last year's Celestial Cinema.

The Maui Film Festival's Barry Rivers chats about the event's mandate for uplifting films and why he never gets island fever.

For festival director Barry Rivers and his co-director wife, Stella, the Maui Film Festival is a labor of love. They've seen it grow from a weekly screening series that began in 1997 to an annual event attended by many celebrities including Dennis Quaid, Tim Burton and Zac Efron.

The 12th edition, which unspools June 15 to  19, features small, independent titles as well as those from the Weinstein Co., Focus Features, Roadside Attractions and Tribeca Film. Actors Megan Fox, Andrew Garfield, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde and director Jack McCoy will be on hand to accept honorary awards and view films on a 50-foot Dolby Digital screen at the fest's signature event, the solar-powered Celestial Cinema screenings, held under the stars at Wailea's Gold and Emerald golf courses.

Rivers, a former producer-director and New York native, recently spoke with THR.

You have a mandate to showcase life-affirming stories. Why is that important to you?

We wanted a festival that suggested how things might be, rather than how they necessarily were/are. I often describe the program as living at the intersection of smart and heart.

Why is your festival attractive to celebrities?

There's a number of reasons. We give them privacy. We let them breathe when they're here and don't create a deluge of paparazzi. All the resorts in Wailea are partners. There's a great level of artistry in the food and wine events we do. And, of course, it's spectacularly beautiful here.

What's your best celebrity moment?

Nine years ago, Clint Eastwood was kind enough to come and insisted on buying his own tickets for Celestial Cinema. He parked with everyone else, got on the shuttle with his chairs, walked up to his spot and sat down to enjoy the movie. It was pretty special that one of the biggest stars you could ever hope to have at your festival was a really decent, down-home person.

What is your place in the film festival world?

We don't have any delusions of grandeur about what we're doing at this small festival in the middle of the ocean, but we do like that some of the films we showcase catch a little traction, open some eyes and inspire creative thinking.

Has the weather ever been a problem for your Celestial Cinema?

Wailea is known for its great weather, but when we do get rain, it can really come. At the festival six years ago, this oddball rain cloud opened up above the Celestial Cinema. It just poured. It wasn't pouring a half-mile down the road; it wasn't pouring a half-mile in the other direction -- it was right there. There were puddles everywhere. We were showing a short film that would draw thousands of people later that evening, and it looked like it wasn't going to happen. But then it stopped raining around 3 o'clock, and it got so hot that the ground was totally dry in an hour and a half.

What's the biggest hurdle you face in mounting the festival each year?

The challenges are always financial, and any festival that tells you differently isn't telling you straight out. Aside from that, it's just trying to find films we deem worthy of putting up on the screen. It's always a challenge, but it's the most fun part, too, actually. It's great to discover new -- or relatively new -- films.

You've lived in Maui for more than 30 years. Do you ever get island fever?

Nah, I travel just enough. I'm an ocean person. If I'm in the ocean, it doesn't get any better than that. I've been around the world enough to know that.           


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