Maui Film Fest: Short films, ‘sea changes’ and fun

Jun. 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

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BY MATTHEW GUREWITSCH / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Aloha from the lawn of the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, where at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14, the Maui Film Festival wrapped up four back-to-back filmmaker panels. I attended the sessions on short films, “sea changes” (challenges in evolving world of movie making) and on maintaining a sense of fun. Attendance throughout hovered around 30 people.

After the panel on shorts, someone from the floor asked why don’t we see more of them. Various answers were offered, most having to do with business models. It’s more lucrative for movie theaters to show previews of coming attractions, right? Makes sense.

Jeffrey Karoff, director of "Cavedigger," was a panelist at the Maui Film Festival on Saturday, June 14. (Courtesy Matthew Gurewitsch)

Jeffrey Karoff, director of “Cavedigger,” was a panelist at the Maui Film Festival on Saturday, June 14. (Courtesy Matthew Gurewitsch)

But isn’t another factor that audiences don’t go to a theater just to see a short subject, or even a program of shorts? Wouldn’t the challenge really be to create demand for your particular product, rather than look for coattails to ride on? In the age of social networking, that job—like the job of making a film in the first place—should be getting a lot easier.

Smart pricing could help. Everyone knows that you can watch all the free stuff you want on YouTube, and some of it is pure gold. But who wants to sift through all the chaff? I would love it if I could break up a long day on my laptop with a quick movie. Offer me something that looks good for $2.99, and I’d click. How about an opt-in mailing list by filmmakers with short films on their hands? Send out your teasers and pray that you go viral.

It could happen for “Cavedigger,” which screens at noon Sunday, June 16, Castle Theater. Directed by Jeffrey Karoff, the film documents outsider artist Ra Paulette, who makes caves on commission for sometimes-grouchy clients in northern New Mexico, who pay him at about $15 an hour. He does all the work the hard way. He makes what Karoff calls masterpieces, but more often than not, the customers call the whole thing off. Artistic differences.

Michelangelo took direction, one says, so why shouldn’t this guy? But things could be looking up. Jeff Bezos, of Amazon.com, has taken an interest in Paulette. Watch, and be way ahead of the curve.

A sea change. Mary Lambert, the director of “Fishing Pono: Living in Harmony with the Sea,” filmed on Molokai, opened her comments with musings on the phrase itself, reminding listeners it comes from Ariel’s mysterious song in “The Tempest,” Shakespeare’s sublime fable of guilt, loss, and forgiveness.

“It’s a song about death and transformation,” Lambert said. “And I wanted to make a film that would transform the way we look at the ocean, the way we think of resources and planet. Sounds bit ambitious, but that’s what has to happen.

“We can’t think of planet as an infinite place that can absorb all our trash and greenhouse gases and attacks by commercial fishing industry. So that’s what I was trying to do! A few little things!”

When a film student asked how to get funding to get a project off the ground, Joseph Levy, who directed the food documentary “Spinning Plates,” had this advice: “Don’t start by asking for something. Go out and shoot on your own dime, and cut a three-minute trailer.”

The final panel ran under the heading, “Had enough of ‘Heavyosity’?” What the panelists share is a comic perspective on serious subjects.

Thomas Wiewandt, director of "Desert Dreams," addresses the audience at his Maui Film Festival panel discussion. (Courtesy Matthew Gurewitsch)

Thomas Wiewandt, director of “Desert Dreams,” addresses the audience at his Maui Film Festival panel discussion. (Courtesy Matthew Gurewitsch)

“Comedy is a serious thing, and a painful thing to do,” said the effervescent Mexican filmmaker Alaleine Cal y Mayor, whose Maui Film Festival entry is called “The Boy Who Smells Like Fish.” (/) “It takes sweat, tears, grey hair…”

The medical condition the film describes really exists. (It’s called trimethylaminuria.) It’s rare, and it’s not dangerous to your health, but psychologically its effect can be devastating. According to Cal y Mayor, it often triggers suicide.

Her goal, she added, isn’t to tell viewers what to think, who to like.

“The film is a comedy. It’s about acceptance.”

Josh Greenbaum, director of “The Short Game,” spoke about the seven-year-old world-championship golfers who are the subject of his film.

“Seven-year-olds have a funny point of view,” he said. Point and match.

A big theme of the evolving conversation was storytelling. What is storytelling today, anyway?, the moderator Rick Chatenever asked. The “Short Game” gang spoke of the built-in suspense of competition — “Who’s gonna win?”

Thomas Wiewandt, director of “Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Season in the Sonoran Desert,” talked about what I could call implicit storytelling rather than imposed storytelling. For starters, he said that dominant modes of nature documentaries turn him off.

“Tooth-and-claw programming,” he called it. “It’s as if your story isn’t violent and it isn’t bloody, it isn’t worth telling.”

His objective, he said, was to tell the true story. You can’t direct animals, he noted, but that didn’t mean you never take them out of the natural environment, hoping they’ll do what you know they do.

“I want to give people the feeling of seeing through the eyes of a child. Where no one is telling you what to think. You just go with it.”

On the subject of unpredictability, Cal y Mayor had this to say: “I don’t like surprises. I have my shot list ready a year and a half before. But when you’re working with your actors, they bring new elements that make your work more rich. And I learned to embrace that.”

And if you happened to be wondering about that word “heavyosity,” Adam Rodgers, the director of the R-rated comedy “Middleton,” identified it as a coinage of Woody Allen’s, from “Annie Hall.” (When Shelley Duvall said a concert was heavy, Allen asked whether it achieved … Fill in the blank.)

And if you happen to be wondering about that R-rating for “Middleton,” Rodgers gave away the secret. Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, as parents accompanying their kids on a college-admission tour, go wandering off by themselves, find students smoking marijuana in a dorm room, and join them.

“So that got us an R. Same as ‘Django Unchained.’”
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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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