Rob Parsons

Green Screenings

An eco-centric sneak preview of the Maui Film Festival

by Rob Parsons

June 11, 2009

Maui Film Festival maven Barry Rivers says he feels a bit like Shrek—a crazy movie monster who’s green enough to be an environmentalist. 

Rivers is upbeat as the 10th annual Maui Film Festival at Wailea draws near. In a year that could be the most difficult to date for the ambitious cinematic undertaking, he took the opportunity to go with what works.

“Every year has been challenging in its own way,” says the ever-animated Rivers. “It turns out that without some of the big sponsorship we’ve had in the past, we’re now more independent than ever. We did more digging. And I think we came up with our sharpest program ever.”

“Every year we sort of ‘genre-size’ the program, if that’s a word,” Rivers says. “We do music, comedy, romantic and have some really great films that address the needs of the planet and humankind. Hopefully, we can enlighten a few people along the way.”

But what’s missing is drama. “This year,” Rivers smiles, “our overall theme is really from the heart. It’s like ‘Life….No Drama.’”

Presumably, that means little of the gratuitous violence and special effects that can be found in the current Hollywood offerings at Maui multiplexes—Drag Me to Hell, Terminator Salvation, Angels and Demons, Monsters vs. Aliens. Sounds like a lot of archetypal good vs. evil plots, assuming there are indeed plots to be found.

Rivers is as passionate about bringing people together as he is about movies. “We all succeed or fail together as a community,” he says. Thus, he’s taken some bold steps to “green” the festival this year. He is offsetting the event’s power usage, thanks to a partnership with Rising Sun Solar. And, for the first time, he has gone to an e-book format for the festival program, saving 10,000 booklets from being printed, distributed and eventually discarded. (You can find the festival e-book at mauifilmfestival.com/program.)

For those who have less green in their pockets, Rivers is determined to make the events easy and affordable. The Celestial Cinema venue, with blankets and folding chairs under the stars on the Wailea golf course lawn, is the “crown jewel” of the festival. This year’s Celestial Cinema has four triple-features and a double feature with HAPA also providing entertainment—each for $20.

Now, for everyone who ever wrote a high school book report after only reading the Cliff’s Notes, here are this year’s eco-films that caught my eye (after reading reviews and watching trailers):

One Peace at a Time

Writer/director Turk Pipkin is remembered for Nobelity, his uplifting documentary featuring interviews of Nobel Prize winners. His latest effort examines some of the world’s toughest humanitarian issues, such as cluster bombs that are manufactured, exported and used by the United States.

From the orphanages of India to digging a well in Ethiopia, from fighting poverty in Bangladesh to passing out condoms in Thailand to battle HIV/AIDS and soaring birth rates, the film is a sobering dose of reality that’s refreshingly focused on solutions. Maui’s beloved Willie Nelson makes a cameo in this world premiere showing.

“There’s nothing magical about change,” the film proclaims. “It’s about getting up off your ass.”

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute, has long warned that access to clean, fresh water is the planet’s most vital environmental issue. The producers of The Corporation bring compelling awareness to the issues surrounding dwindling potable water sources, privatization, desertification and even the proliferation of plastic bottles.

International corporations, including Coca-Cola, Bechtel, Nestle and Perrier are seizing control of water resources on several continents, primarily for their own profit. Clouds are being stolen in China. The Bush family is buying river land in Paraguay. 

Blue Gold also offers some solutions to the crisis of the expanding “water cartel,” and shares some success stories. Bolivian peasants, fired upon by their own army for gathering rainwater, were able to drive Bechtel out.

The issues should have special relevance here on Maui, where corporate plantation agriculture maintains control over public trust water resources. On the heels of Maui Tomorrow’s recent free screening of The Waterfront on Earth Day, Blue Gold is likely to educate and motivate. 

“The political will to change [this unjust system] is not going to come from the top,” says one of the movie’s interviewees. “It’s going to come from the bottom up.”

Cash Crop

In Maui’s not-so-distant past, marijuana rivaled or surpassed sugar cane as Maui’s number one cash crop, and contributed a significant boost to the local economy. This was before federally funded helicopter eradication funds became available for Project Greenharvest, during the George H.W. Bush, “Just Say No” era.

“Cash Crop” examines regions where marijuana is grown in abundance, legally and illegally, as part of an estimated $35 billion dollar business. It focuses especially on Northern California, where the lumber industry is facing diminishing returns and residents say that medical marijuana laws have made it possible for local economies to survive.

While many are calling for a new, “green” economy, some may get squeamish when the thought of growing marijuana is included in the discussion. But one Mendecino County sheriff is tired of spending so much time enforcing existing laws. “Let’s move on,” he says. “The fact of the matter is, Americans like their marijuana.”


The two-minute movie trailer for Dirt bowled me over—total chicken skin. The juxtaposition of devastation (industrial agriculture and its worldwide impact) and inspiration (soil’s life-giving properties and its intricate, complex network of organisms) is powerful, to say the least.

And the film zooms in on people who are passionate about dirt, people who have founded entire movements: physicist Vandana Shiva; Berkeley’s Alice Waters of the edible schoolyard movement; Kenyan Wangari Maathai of the green belt movement; Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People; and Carlo Petrini, who founded the slow food movement.

Like water, the ubiquitous nature of dirt has led us to take it for granted and to not adequately nurture and protect our soil. “We survive on the fertile power of fresh water and dirt,” the film proclaims. “All other measurements of wealth are illusions.”

Houston, We Have a Problem

We’ve all seen movies (think Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) that bombard us with the severity of big problems but don’t offer enough tangible solutions. Houston, We Have a Problem seeks not just to demonize our dependence on oil, but to humanize the issue as well. 

It examines past political decisions that have ultimately made us more petroleum-dependent. “We need to tear the oil industry out of yesterday,” says the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, “and get them thinking about tomorrow.” 

The film explores a potpourri of energy alternatives. While acknowledging that no single technology will replace cheap oil, it makes the case that a variety of different solutions could serve as “a box of silver bullets.” (No, I don’t think they mean a case of Coors, though the problem is daunting enough to drive one to drink.) 

The Cove

Led by a dolphin-training authority who worked on the television program Flipper back in the 1960s, a covert group of activists, divers and filmmakers travels to a hidden cove in Japan. There, with action/adventure-paced excitement, a deadly secret is uncovered. And that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tabbed an “eco-thriller” by Huffington Post, The Cove was also an Audience Award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival. Producer/director and part-time Maui resident Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon, et al) says the film “is a call to action that has the power to save dolphins, oceans and ourselves.”  

Meanwhile, The Dolphin Project is an 8-minute short that examines these highly social and intelligent creatures. It screens as one of six films in the Explore Shorts Showcase, which also includes Rwanda Gorilla Special, and Artic: Change at the Top of the World.

Processed People

This documentary challenges Americans to look at their largely unconscious consumption of processed foods. Steeped in opinions from medical professionals, it reminds us that we’re much more accustomed to treating disease than promoting health. 

The film also asks relevant questions (why not have subsidies for fruits and vegetables instead of rewarding those who produce crops that wind up as processed foods?). Like a good bop on the head (“I could have had a V-8!”), Processed People reminds us of things we might have known already, but tend to forget.

For more info visit mauifilmfestival.com