There's been no shortage of big-name Hollywood talent at the Maui Film Festival over the past decade. Clint Eastwood, Helen Hunt, Woody Harrelson, Geena Davis, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson are just a few of the celebrities who have been honored at the annual event since its debut in 2000. Most folks seem to agree, however, that the real star of the show has always been the natural beauty of the festival's jaw-dropping outdoor setting.
"It's one of the most incredible places to see a film anywhere," said festival director Barry Rivers. "And I know that sounds a little self-important, but we've just had so many people say that about the festival, from the L.A. Times to Variety to Indiewire [an independent film website]."
Held each June at South Maui's Wailea Resort, most of the festival's films are screened under the stars shortly after sunset at the Celestial Cinema, a grassy expanse of golf course fairway at the foot of Haleakala, the island's dormant volcano. Gearing up for its 13th installment, scheduled for June 13 to 17, event organizers say the festival attracted close to 20,000 attendees in 2011 and has generated more than $75 million in economic activity for Maui since 2000.
"For a lot of people, it's not just a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Rivers said. "It's a sixth in a lifetime or eighth in a lifetime. We have people who in the festival's earlier years just sort of stumbled upon it because they happened to be on Maui for vacation. And now, many of those same people return every year."
According to Thomas Steinhauer, general manager at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the festival showcases some of the Valley Isle's best attributes.
"To me the film festival is one of those destination promotion events that are so crucial," he said. "It's unique because it's relaxed, it's typically Maui, it has this incredible outdoor venue [and] during that particular week we always have a visible uptick in leisure travel."
Along with this year's program, which includes about 35 features and 15 short films, movie buffs can enjoy a collection of culinary events scheduled throughout the week, highlighted by the Four Seasons' Taste of Chocolate extravaganza and the VIP party held at Mala, a restaurant at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort.
According to the Marriott's general manager, Bill Countryman, "With Mala we never quite know who's going to show up." He said past guests have included movie stars Megan Fox and Pierce Brosnan as well as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and "American Idol" fame. "I'm sure there will be some surprises at the door," Countryman said.
Rubbing elbows with celebrities is certainly part of the Maui Film Festival's appeal, and the island's laid-back vibe makes events an easy place for residents, visitors and stars to mingle.
Those looking for access to all the elite gatherings can take part by purchasing one of several VIP Patron Pass packages, ranging in price from $48 to $10,000 and commissionable to travel agents at 15%.
"Your odds increase exponentially with the price," Rivers said of seeing celebrities. "We should probably just call it our 'pay to play' pass."
For more about the festival's films, packages and specials offered through participating Wailea hotels or details about booking VIP Patron passes, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com
or call (808) 579-9244.