Maui Film Fest: Let’s not forget

Jun. 11, 2013 | 0 Comments


BY MATTHEW GUREWITSCH / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Would Eddie stay for “Islands of Sanctuary”? I’m guessing he would, definitely.

Spoken-word and cinematic tributes to Hawaiian legends Eddie Aikau and Nainoa Thompson get top billing at the Maui Film Festival’s “Celestial Cinema” in Wailea tomorrow night, but it would be a mistake to skip out before the late show.

Eddie Aikau. (Star-Advertiser File)

Eddie Aikau. (Star-Advertiser File)

In the world-premiere sneak preview of “Islands of Sanctuary,” filmmaker Christopher McLeod turns his lens on movements by indigenous peoples of Australia and Hawaii to reclaim sovereignty over ancestral lands, in the process reaffirming spiritual connections.

The Hawaiian segment — funded in part by Pacific Islanders In Communications, a national nonprofit media arts organization based in Honolulu — focuses on healing the island of Kaho‘olawe after decades of bombardment by the U.S. military. In the Australian segment, the rape of the land takes the form of zinc-mining beneath the bed of the McArthur River, known to the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory as the Rainbow Serpent.

These episodes constitute the final hour of the eight-part documentary “Standing on Sacred Ground.” Seven years in the making and coming soon on PBS, the series covers parallel cultural revivals from Ethiopia to Peru, from Canada to Papua New Guinea.

In all these places, modern history has for centuries been riding roughshod over cosmologies, belief systems, and ways of life going back to the dawn of time. Much ancient wisdom has been lost, yet priceless clues survive, in language, in customs, in chants.

“Over the past 20 or 30 years people all over the world have been fighting battles that are not really connected,” McLeod said. “Our objective is to show the universality of these struggles. Our eight stories are tied together by the common thread of people trying to protect their sacred places.”

Every native community that has been dispossessed in the past has a struggle to bring back traditional knowledge, because it was damaged by design. Languages were banned. Elders and knowledge holders have been murdered. Movements have been splintered, and land that was the basis of everything has been taken away.

“Today, land management from the indigenous point of view has both physical and spiritual implications,” said McLeod. “Ceremonies are integral to the protection of the land. If you look at the world today with climate change, extinction of species, contamination of water, people are realizing that we have an unsustainable, extractive culture that’s in need of refinement before it’s too late.

“I feel that indigenous cultures have preserved a view of nature that contains the values that are missing. We’re living a myth of abundance. Native peoples have always respected the limits.”

Alinea's Grant Achatz is one of the featured chefs in "Spinning Plates." (Courtesy photo)

Alinea’s Grant Achatz is one of the featured chefs in “Spinning Plates.” (Courtesy photo)

AND ONE MORE thing: It’s no secret that food looms large — very large — at the Maui Film Festival. That being the case, it seems only fitting that one of the first screenings is of Joseph Levy’s documentary “Spinning Plates” (4:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, at Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center).

The subject is restaurants. Alinea, in Chicago, is a temple of the extreme culinary wizardry known as molecular cuisine. (Please, please check out the website.)

Breitbach’s Country Dining, in Balltown, Iowa (pop. 70), distinguishes itself as, in Levy’s word, “the living, beating heart of a town,” not to mention as a destination in its own right. (It seats 400, and can serve 2,000 patrons a day.)

And then there’s La Cocina de Gabby, a mom-and-pop Mexican eatery in Tucson, hanging on by the sheer grit of the owners. (Truth to tell, the one or two Yelp reviewers who have been heard from have not been kind.)

“‘Spinning Plates’ is an emotional film about food and love and family,” Levy said. “Since ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi,’ distributors have appreciated how hot a culinary film can be.”

And is Levy a chef himself?

“Not professionally trained,” he replied, “but I do love to cook. When I started, I would try the most complicated Charlie Trotter recipes. Now it’s more family-style.

“If I were cooking tonight? I’d serve Chicken Milanese and roasted potatoes, something like that. And a liquid-center chocolate cake for dessert.”
Matthew Gurewitsch moved to Maui in 2011 after nearly three decades in New York City covering the arts for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

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