Maui filmmakers Dr. Tom Vendetti and Bob Stone are in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this week, getting ready for the third annual Angkor Wat International Film Festival.
Tom's wife, Nancy, Sam Kong, Dr. Gary Greenberg, Doug Schenk and Maui high school filmmaker Lee Ah Lee make up the Maui delegation putting on this unique celebration of cinema. It runs Thursday to Sunday in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is a charming French colonial city just outside the 1,000-year-old ruins of the monumental, mysterious Angkor temple complexes sprawling over 390 square miles in the steamy Cambodian jungle.
Gnarly, centuries-old tree roots intertwine seductively with voluptuous temple dancers called "Apsara" on acres of stonewalls sculpted with epic scenes from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Whether it was Buddhist or Hindu depends on which religion controlled the temples in any given century. Monkeys patrol some of the ruins, looking a bit like zen monks themselves.
The magnificent Angkor monuments are World Heritage Sites of timeless faith, and launch pads for new adventures, real and imaginary. At the movies, the silent stonewalls provided sets for Angelina Jolie's 2001 "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" and the signature epiphany of the visionary documentary "Baraka."
Having worked on various Vendetti Productions film projects myself, I was fortunate to attend the first Angkor Wat International Film Festival three years ago. Hosted by the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort in Siem Reap, all the screenings are free, drawing families of Cambodians into the luxurious Sofitel ballrooms for possibly the first movie they've ever seen in their lives. There is no movie theater in Siem Reap.
Showing many of the movies in 3-D this year, Tom says, "is the talk of the town." He's hoping the images don't scare the attendees out of their seats.
New this year is a 3-D slide show by Maui's Dr. Greenberg, a pioneer in microscopic photography. Gary's images of single grains of sand - as dazzling and complex as priceless jewels - have fascinated Maui audiences, and reached global audiences via his book, "A Grain of Sand," and his TEDxMaui presentation, still a popular hit on YouTube.
This is the second festival for Maui Gold executive Schenk. Doug's personal efforts with his wife, Cindy, have created educational opportunities for thousands of Cambodian children. Last year festival co-creator Stone, working with Diana Gross of Global Citizen Media Project, put video cameras into youngsters' hands for the "Tell Your Own Story" project, then showed the films to their proud, astonished families.
Lee Ah Lee will add the voice of Maui's burgeoning young filmmakers. She will show "Nifo Oti," a three-minute documentary she directed with Alyssa Ferrer and Roselyn Domingo that first aired on KHET's "Hiko No" series.
In the mid-'90s, Vendetti - who is also a psychologist and mental health administrator on Maui - was part of a team treating patient Khong from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Their treatment plan involved bringing Sam back to his Cambodian homeland he had been forced to flee almost 30 years earlier. Tom recorded the experience in a documentary film, "Years of Darkness"; the trip also laid the foundation for what would become AWIFF.
AWIFF uses movies as a bridge between our two lands. It reinforces bonds that have been experienced by a handful of Maui folks like Tim and Kyle Ellison and globe-hopping Mira Allen, who have been touched by the amazing Cambodian people. Terrorized and murdered in the millions by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime a half-century ago, they have been further victimized by poverty, sweat shop economics, sexual exploitation and political uncertainties ever since. But there's a resilience in their spirit, and a sweet innocence in their demeanor that makes visitors who encounter it want to help.
AWIFF's mission onscreen is showing films dedicated to cultural and environmental preservation. But it also makes the point that many of us learned on our first visit to Disneyland:
It's a small world. After all.
After the festival, Tom, Bob and I will be putting the finishing touches on our next film, "The Quietest Place on Earth." The title refers to Haleakala Crater, and stems from research by environmental sound engineer Gordon Hempton, who travels the words with his sophisticated sound sensors, searching for silence.
Cultural adviser Clifford Nae'ole is one of many well-known Mauians in the film contemplating the silence of our mountain, and he's making arrangements to preview it as part of this year's Celebration of the Arts, returning to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua from May 9 through 11. Our film will have its gala benefit premiere at the MACC in November.
Everyone knows being quiet is good for body and soul. But that's for another column.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.