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The Maui Film Festival is a film festival held annually on the island of Maui, Hawaii. It was founded in 2000 by Barry Rivers. Past attendees include Bryan Cranston, Freida Pinto, Connie Britton, and Pierce Brosnan

The Maui Film Festival is nicknamed “Cinema-Under-the-Stars” because of its location on Maui, one of the eight Hawaiian Islands. The festival takes place annually over five days in June. It is based at Grand Wailea Resort and includes film premieres, filmmaker panels, special screenings, tributes, award ceremonies, culinary arts celebrations, and private soirees.


The festival was started in 2000 by Barry Rivers. It originated from a weekly screening series that Rivers began in 1997. Rivers studied Film & Media Arts at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Rivers is still the director of the festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019.


The festival's program is passionately and cleverly formed. Filmmakers submit features and shorts, then the programmers choose around 50 films to be screened over the five-day program. Certain filmmakers, actors, and actresses receive awards based on who the programmers think best fits the award criteria for that year. The Maui Film Festival is an audience festival rather than a business festival [5]. Its programmers work to leave out big business, so it can focus on the audience's experience and the filmmaker's films. The festival discourages schmoozing [3]. Rather it prides itself on being particularly inviting to filmmakers and celebrities because it values privacy. The programmers purposefully do not involve too many cameras or journalists, so the attendees do not get overwhelmed [6]. As a result, the festival has a casual setting and filmmakers and celebrities often intermingle with the attendees. For example, Clint Eastwood [4] and his family once brought lawn chairs and sat with the rest of the audience to enjoy a feature that was being shown outside at Celestial Cinema [5]. Film festivals such as Cannes and ShoWest prioritize media, money, and glamour. Attendees of these big business film festivals know these events are focused on celebrities, galas, and sales. Maui Film Festival offers an escape from the claustrophobia of lights, cameras, and carpets. It's a destination festival in the middle of an ocean. It is similar to the Telluride Film Festival in this sense; Telluride is located in a tiny village in Colorado. Attendees travel through mountains if they wish to see the films. However, Maui Film Festival only mimics the early years of Telluride in the 1980s and 1990s when it was intimate and inexpensive. Now, it is a global festival; the tiny village has transformed into a posh resort; the ticket prices have sky-rocketed; it has commercialized as a result of its growth in size. Only time will tell if the Maui Film Festival will have the same fate.


Taking advantage of its landscape, the Maui Film Festival screens many of its films outdoors. Celestial Cinema is the festival's main venue. Films are also projected onto a 50-foot screen set on the Gold & Emerald Golf Course [5]. Its outdoor location can hold 2,500+. Attendees bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit on the grass as they watch the film. This adds to the festival's casual, laid back environment. Screenings here often take place at night, so attendees can enjoy features under the stars.

In addition, the festival has two venues at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. The first venue, Castle Theater, is dubbed ‘Maui’s Movie Palace’; it is the Center's principal performance space and seats 1,200 people in its multitiered configuration. The second venue at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center is the McCoy Studio Theater. It is called the “black box” because of its smaller, more intimate feel, seating no more than 250 people [7]. One of the festival's most unique venues is the Toes in the Sand Cinema on Wailea Beach in front of the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea. It holds a free community screening that usually features a program of short films [8]. This screening in the sand helps separate the Maui Film Festival from other festivals because it reminds the audience that the festival is not based on money and extravagance. Instead, it values being accessible to all and connecting people to film in the Hawaiian outdoors.


The festival includes many events that complement the Hawaiian atmosphere of vacation and beauty. It begins with an Opening Night Twilight Reception at Grand Wailea Resort.

The opening night reception includes a culinary event called Taste of Summer, which is described as a time-travel experience to simpler days when attendees immerse themselves in fresh, colorful foods and the exquisite beauty of their surroundings [9]. One of the festival's most popular events is the Taste of Chocolate. This is where Maui pastry chefs show off sweet sensations at an evening event at the Grand Wailea Resort. This tasty event requires a pass to attend and allows attendees, celebrities, and filmmakers to blend and dive into a chocolate trance [9]. The festival clearly puts an emphasis on food because it has yet another top-tier culinary event called the Taste of Wailea, an exclusive outdoor event atop the slopes of Haleakala on the Wailea Golf Courses. Local chefs from around the island offer small plates of their inventive, delectable food creations [9]. The Maui Film Festival consistently provides state-of-the-art cuisine in stunning settings that leave attendees feeling like they are in a dream.

Awards and honors

The Maui Film Festival honors film artists, actors, and actresses for outstanding achievements.

Lights! Camera! Action! Award: Honors directors for their heartfelt personal and professional commitment to make movies that both matter and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable challenges. Winners include Olivia Wilde.

Maverick Award: Honors actors and actresses who promote activism in protecting the Earth and all creatures who call it home.

Navigator Award: Honors film actors and actressesstill in the ascendancy of their career, who thrive on challenging expectations while delivering ever more brilliant performances every time opportunity knocks. Winners include Gina Rodriguez.

Nova Award: Honors film actors/actresses for their astonishingly original and seamless performances, and the way they consistently infuse the characters they embody with insight, humanity, and wisdom. Winners include Jessica Chastain and Paul Rudd.

Pathfinder Award: Honors actors and actresses whose eclectic choices and charismatic performances encourage people to expand their definition of what it means to be human. Pierce Brosnan received this award, making him the first two-time honoree at the Maui Film Festival after also winning the Maverick Award [12].

Rainmaker Award: Honors actors/actresses for carving a path of distinction through the turbulent waters of the entertainment industry without sacrificing their fundamental commitment to excellence. In 2016, Michael B. Jordan was awarded the Rainmaker Award for his powerful and emotional lead roles in ‘Fruitvale Station’ and ‘Creed.’

Rising Star Award: Honors young actors and actresses whose every role surprises, enthralls, and delights audiences. Winners include Karen Gillan, Nick Robinson and Maya Erskine.

Shining Star Award: Honors film actors and actresses who dare to dream big dreams and deliver brilliantly charismatic and revelatory performances every time they can. Past winners have been Zac Efron, Andrew Garfield, Olivia Wilde, Emma Roberts, Amber Heard and Awkwafina.

Shooting Star Award: Honors an actor in a Maui Film Festival Hawaii Premiere whose breakthrough performance lights up the Big Screen at Celestial Cinema equally brightly as the Maui moon and stars light up the night. Winners include Joe Manganiello.

Visionary Award: Honors actors and actresses who live life beyond limits and outside of fear [11]. Winners include Louie Schwartzberg.


The Maui Film Festival is going into its 20th year. It has remained consistent with its program; it is intimate and beautiful. The art of the land and the art of the films are the perfect pair that make the festival so inviting. If the festival wishes to grow in popularity, it will have to include more media coverage and more celebrities. However, its size and limited media are what makes it so appealing to film artists. Will the Maui Film Festival continue on its current path or will it succumb to media and big business to grow in popularity?

  • “Schmooze.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
  • “Maui Now: 2018 Maui Film Festival ‘Toes in the Sand Cinema.’” Maui Now | Ask a Maui Doctor: How Much Poke Is Too Much?,


5. LLC, Hawaii Web Group. “Maui Film Festival A Unique, Local Maui Favorite.” Maui Information Guide

6. Hueso, Noela. “Maui Film Fest Director Barry Rivers Talks Cinema (Q&A).” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 June 2011

7. “Venues.” Iliza Shlesinger

8. 9. Dudley, Malika. “Live at the Maui Film Festival Taste of Summer.” Maui News Now 10. “Maui Now: Maui Film Festival to Award Kirsten Dunst, Jessica Chastain.” Maui Now | Ask a Maui Doctor: How Much Poke Is Too Much? 11. Maui Film Festival – News 12. McCracken, Kristin. “Pierce Brosnan Receives Maui Film Festival Pathfinder Award.” The Huffington Post,, July 7, 2017

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