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From films to burgers
June 7, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
Interconnectedness and impermanence are the two themes providing the "script" for "Samsara," a wordless documentary of cosmic proportions that screens at the Maui Film Festival's Celestial Cinema at 8 p.m. Friday, June 15.
It's from director Ron Fricke and writer-producer Mark Magidson, the guys who created the mind-bending, consciousness-expanding "Baraka" 20 years ago. The two will be honored with the festival's Soul in Cinema Award, essentially for ushering in a new genre of documentary filmmaking in which metaphor replaces talking heads, and intuition supersedes what we think of as "meaning."
"Samsara" is a concept running through Eastern religions referring to the endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth that we bundle together under the label "life." The filmmakers spent five years traveling to 25 countries, collecting dazzling images that show we are all the same.
I got the same message, without having to travel nearly so far, out and about on Maui last weekend.
First stop was Castle Theater at the MACC Saturday, for the hula extravaganza "Recalling Hawai'i," created and directed by Roselle Keli'ihonipua Lindsey Bailey.
It was telling that this expansive vision of Hawaiian history told in the language of oli, mele and hula, had played to enthusiastic reactions in Germany and Switzerland before having its Maui premiere. Indeed, some members of the 90-member multi-ethnic, multigenerational cast who filled the stage with colorful movement came from those countries. Others were from California and the other Hawaiian Islands.
The production ambitiously tackled the challenge of telling Hawaii's "story" in a variety of contexts, from geological evolution through mythology to the history created by the people who have made this place home. As opposed to the intimidating, reverential seriousness that has attended these themes in some past hula epics that have played on the Castle stage, this one had an infectious sense of playfulness.
There was plenty of emotion and wistful longing for what has been lost in the history of modern Hawaii, but it was hard to escape the enthusiasm of the youngest dancers sharing the stage with their older siblings and the soulful kupuna inspiring them all.
While the art form of hula is rigorous and exacting, subject to stringent language and dance judging in competitive settings like the Merrie Monarch, this production felt lighter, full of spirit. While not overlooking injustices done to this culture, "Recalling Hawai'i" was at its best illustrating the values that give Hawaiian culture its character and strength: ohana, respect, focus, wisdom and grace.
A very different set of Maui values were on view the following afternoon, four miles past Tedeschi Winery in Kanaio, where the road to Kaupo turns into a ribbon that looks like a heat mirage and the landscape looks like Montana with an ocean coast.
The Haiku Hillbillys were playing at Bully's Burgers, a unique, only-on-Maui experience that gives new meaning to the term "roadside attraction."
Named for rodeo champion Louis Bully DePonte, Bully's is a latter-day chuck wagon run by his wife, Paige DePonte, and their kids. They serve burgers from the free-range cattle on their working ranch. Out here, where the occasional car or pickup shares the road with cowboys on horseback or ATVs, the ocean horizon frames windswept, craggy vistas unlike anything on Maui tourist brochures.
And who better than to make music here than irrepressible Randall Rospond, finger-picking master Rand Coon and the rest of the Hillbillys. With a repertoire heavy on road songs by folks like Dylan, Jackson Browne, the Grateful Dead and others, it's fitting that they can claim this stretch of road - unlike any other in the American songbook - as their own.
Everything's an outbuilding at Bully's - the kitchen, the stage, the covered picnic tables down the hill. The road does double duty as the dance floor. It's mostly free, except when the occasional Harley, or horse trailer, or parade of pastel hot rods passes by.
It's surreal and sublime, beauty and danger in perfect balance. The burgers are great, too -in a spot like this, how could they be anything else?
With harmonica, fiddle, banjo and roadhouse vocals providing just the right soundtrack for this Western movie overlooking the Pacific Ocean, reluctantly I had to cut my Kanaio revery short.
They were celebrating Buddha's birthday at the Maui Dharma Center in Paia later that afternoon, and I didn't want to miss it.
Buddha had a lot to say on the subject of "samsara." And Maui does a pretty good job filling in the gaps when it comes to interconnectedness.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Haiku Hillbillys playing last Sunday at Bully's Burgers in Kanaio. RICK CHATENEVER photos