Last Friday, Kamehameha Schools Maui intern Daisy Draper joined Matt Thayer and me covering the Maui Film Festival at the Grand Wailea. Actress Evan Rachel Wood was being honored that night, and we had a short window to interview her before she stepped onstage to accept her Nova Award.
Pink clouds in turquoise twilight provided the background for Matt's shots as Daisy watched. She got to observe the good-natured behind-the-scenes jockeying and negotiations with festival PR director Ben Goodman, then the blur of a five-minute interview, then the adrenalized rush of turning the experience into words and pictures for the newspaper front page the following day.
Heady stuff. Not many jobs put you in point-blank range of so much gorgeousness. Few careers actually pay you for being starstruck. Between the glitz, excitement and pressure, Daisy got a crash course in this new genre called "celebrity journalism." Matt and I tried to be mentors when we weren't bumping against the deadline.
"It's not always like this," I told her. Turns out, that's probably for the best.
Haiku resident Ram Dass echoed those sentiments the following morning. I was at the table with him at the filmmakers brunch at Longhi's before a series of filmmaker panels at the nearby Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. The renowned author and spiritual teacher was the subject, along with his friend Timothy Leary, of "Dying to Know," a documentary about their unique roles reshaping American society in the last half of the 20th century.
Gay Dillingham, the film's director, was on a panel titled "Spirit in Cinema," that I had the privilege of moderating.
Sitting in his wheelchair, his smile beaming over his white beard, I asked Ram Dass how it feels being a movie star these days. It's different, he said. People still flock to him looking for wisdom, but they all want to have their pictures taken with him, too. A couple of women recently tore the buttons off his shirt for souvenirs.
It's challenging, teaching selflessness in the age of the selfie.
Ram Dass greeted it all with bemused equanimity. Fame is temporary . . . actually, so's life.
Fame was one of the topics covered in "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," which opened the festival's newest venue, the Seaside Cinema Music Cafe and Sunset Lounge at the Grand Wailea. The comic documentary marking the directorial debut of "Wayne's World," "Shrek" and "Austin Powers" star Mike Myers has been getting glowing national attention in print and on network TV.
Adding to the thrill of its festival premiere was the fact that its subject - a legendary entertainment manager, music promoter, film producer and creator of the celebrity chef movement - has lived on Maui for decades, not far from where the film played on the outdoor screen.
The film's subject, Shep, was affable and funny, with a never-ending supply of great stories both in the film and in his live appearance afterward. Getting to share the stage with him for the Q&A brought echoes of "Wayne's World" to me: "I am not worthy . . . I am not worthy."
That feeling persisted the following nights through interviews with actresses Emma Roberts and Evan, culminating on Saturday talking to Lupita Nyong'o, this year's best supporting-actress Oscar winner for her unforgettable role in best-picture winner "12 Years a Slave."
As poised and articulate as she was breathtaking to look at, she seems less actress than inspiration, punctuating her comments with a lilting, disarming laugh. She was just cast for "Star Wars: Episode VII." What planet am I on? I wondered, as I got lost in space just looking in her eyes.
The Maui Film Festival is like that - dealing with spirit one moment, imagination the next. Besides the heart-stopping interviews, and mind-expanding panels, favorite movies of the few I got to see besides "Supermensch" and "Dying to Know" included "Awake: The Life of Yogananda" and "Magic Men."
Festival founder and director Barry Rivers and his staff once again deserve high praise and deep thanks for the annual thrill ride from troubling realities and mind-bending questions through heart-expanding discoveries of our shared humanity, all the way to places of beauty beyond belief. And for throwing the island a great five-day party.
My friend Jim Tang, a member of the pun police, recently busted me for talking about how the festival's magic leaps from reel to real. But that's my story and I'm sticking with it. This year felt like it went deeper . . . and higher.
Just as well that it lasts only five days. One person can only handle so much of this precious stuff.
* 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.