Maui Film Fest: Trouble in paradise

Jun. 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

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BY MATTHEW GUREWITSCH / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Fate is what trips us up while we chase our idle dreams. Ask Ryan Phillippe, executive producer and narrator of “Isolated,” and Justin Le Pera, the film’s director.

“Originally this was supposed to be a movie on feral surfers,” Philippe said Thursday, June 13, while on his way to their screening at the Celestial Cinema. “But then …”

isolatedSorry to interrupt, but what’s a feral surfer?

“These are surfers who aren’t in it the sport for the glory,” Philippe said, citing the elusive Travis Potter, one of the five “stars” of the movie. “They’re in it to explore, for the adrenalin rush. They spend their life searching for the unridden wave.

“They started out with one objective that might seem superficial to a lot of people—but then it all shifted into a human-rights piece, when the surfers discovered genocide. They were searching for an epic wave and they found an epic struggle. And their selfish quest for the wave became a mission to get the word out, to help,” he said.

That was the story that caught Philippe’s attention.

The setting is West Papua New Guinea, about as far off the grid as it gets. In the eyes of developers, it’s prime real-estate for future luxury destinations. Worse news for the natives, corporate prospectors have discovered gold and copper there.

“Filming was forbidden,” said Philippe, who wasn’t along on the shoot. “The surfers had to smuggle their equipment in, packed up with their surf boards. No one had ever filmed there before.”

As Le Pera explains it, the bad guys are the heavily armed Indonesian military, fully funded by American capitalists. A “Heart of Darkness” for the pen of Joseph Conrad or Mario Vargas Llosa.

You may have heard that Potter et al. also ran into cannibals in West Papua New Guinea. Shaggy-dog alert? What I don’t know about cannibalism would fill a bookshelf, but I’ve heard it said that as a way of life (as opposed to a last, desperate resort), cannibalism may be a fairy tale.

One tribe at what you thought was the end of the line says the tribe across the mountain are savages who eat people. Then you go over the mountain, and the people there tell you no, no, we don’t eat people. But the people over the next mountain — they eat people. And so on.

Andrew Mooney, right, and Josh Fuller chatting with a real life cannibal during the filming of "Isolated." (Courtesy photo)

Andrew Mooney, right, and Josh Fuller chatting with a real life cannibal during the filming of “Isolated.” (Courtesy photo)

IT TURNS out that in crunching 400 hours of raw footage into 90 minutes, most of the fodder for the tabloids got lost.

“The sensationalism of it would have dispersed focus,” Philippe said. “We’re looking into the possibility of developing a scripted feature about those aspects. But in ‘Isolated,’ it would have cost us the heart and truth of what the story is.”

Did the surfers find their wave?

“Yes,” said Le Pera, “they found it.”

And what he went on to describe sounded like “Avatar” or “Life of Pi,” pure CGI. You’ve never seen a wave like this.

“It breaks on a shallow reef. When the tide is high, it’s doesn’t exist. And when the tide is low, the wave breaks in a circle.”

Did they ride it?

“Yes,” said Le Pera, “they rode it. And it didn’t matter.”

IF YOU haven’t heard that Joss Whedon shot his movie of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in black and white at his home on a 12-day break from “The Avengers,” you just haven’t been paying attention.

Joss Whedon. (Associated Press)

Joss Whedon. (Associated Press)

On NPR, David Edelstein summed up his reaction in a word we don’t hear a whole lot: Huzzah!

As for me, I loved the house. Also Nathan Fillion as the bumbling constable Dogberry, Sean Maher as the ice-cold villain Don John, and also, though a good deal less, Reed Diamond as Don John’s classy big brother Don Pedro. And the shot of Fran Kranz as Claudio, the clueless male ingénue, in an infinity pool with a scuba mask, a snorkel, and a martini, used in the poster, is an instant classic. But.

Exiting the Castle Theater after the screening yesterday, I ran into two theater types who both rather liked it.

“Shakespeare wrote telenovelas,” said J.J. Iuorno-Paladino, who started out in telenovelas in his native Buenos Aires. “This movie deconstructs the play as a telenovela for today.”

Actor/director/designer Todd Van Amburgh, whose student productions at Seabury Hall never fail to put a fresh gloss on the classics, was happy, too.

“I was in the play years ago,” he said, “so it’s always fun for me to see it.”

Not until I asked did he tell me that he played Benedick, the best male role in the show: the lover in spite of himself, constantly fencing with the equally love-shy Beatrice.

And there was another personal connection. Alex Denisof, the Benedick of the movie and to my eye very flat, was in a student production of Van Amburgh’s years ago. The show was Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter.”

What about the lighting, which more often than not overexposed the actors’ faces in exterior shots and underexposed them in interior shots, making them either too light or too dark to see?

“I didn’t notice that so much,” Van Amburgh said. “I just enjoyed the contemporary setting and the actors and the courage they had to shoot it in black and white.”

Like an old-time telenovela. Huzzah.
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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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