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Stars and chocolates

"Bullit: and the Mystery of the Devil's Root" (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)
"Bullit: and the Mystery of the Devil's Root" (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)
<p>“Home.” PHOTOS COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN</p>

“Home.” PHOTOS COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN

<p>“If I Were a Bell.” COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN</p>

“If I Were a Bell.” COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN

<p>“Liberator” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“Liberator” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

<p>“Lipstick Lies” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“Lipstick Lies” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

<p>“Part of the Same Circle” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“Part of the Same Circle” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

<p>“Pervertigo.” COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN</p>

“Pervertigo.” COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN

<p>“Sway Away” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“Sway Away” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

<p>“The Land of Eb” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“The Land of Eb” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

<p>“Upside Down” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)</p>

“Upside Down” (COURTESY OF BIFF FOR NHN)

Sometimes zombies, sometimes comedies, a kind of common theme seems to solidify around the Big Island Film Festival every year. For 2013, it’s all about family and connections—from a struggling Kona-coffee-picking dad, to a futuristic sci fi romance in an animated world, with even a modern day Romeo and Juliet charged by lightning making the list.

“The films are very strong this year, especially the made-in-Hawaii films, and that is fantastic to see,” said Leo Sears, executive director, SAG actor and playwright, and creator of the BIFF with wife, Jan, eight years ago. “With 54 shorts and features from Hawaii and around the world, we’ve really got something for everyone.”

In other offerings, a Parisian monster falls for a beautiful singer, peeping Toms find each other, and connections are forged between horse and rider, junkie and lost dog, autistic child and new friend, and a Marshallese grandfather with a spirit from his past.

At The Shops at Mauna Lani, free family films, PG-rated, are shown Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. as a gift to the community. At The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, BIFF presents daytime movies and nightly double features, up to R-rated. The festival also includes two screenwriting workshops by Hollywood pro Ron Osborn (“West Wing”), must-do social soirees with stars Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”), awards brunch and closing night “Best of the Fest” with HAPA in concert.

“We’re also very lucky to have two young, up-and-coming celebrity guests,” said Sears. “Vincent is the guy you love to hate in ‘Mad Men,’ one of the hottest shows on TV right now. And Kate’s career with ‘Saturday Night Live’ is taking off at light speed. Plus, she just signed her first major movie deal, and we can’t wait to hear more about that.”

Partygoers get a taste of film festival glamour, as well as stellar cuisine, and a chance to rub shoulders with celebrity guests at evening social events, such as Friday’s “Meet the Stars: Aloha Hollywood” reception. Guests are encouraged to dress in their finest aloha wear, bring cameras and meet up at the red carpet to generate some silver screen buzz. The VIP menu features butler passed hors d’oeuvres, action stations and “Chef Daniel’s Chocolate Film & Stars Dessert Display,” a chocolate centerpiece with chocolate silk tarts, chocolate lollipops and truffles, chocolate Pop Rock strawberries and more.

On Saturday night, naturally, “SNL” comedienne McKinnon, known for her doppelganger impersonation of Ellen DeGeneres, is in the spotlight at a “Reception & Salute” in her honor, with onstage interview by Maui filmmaker Brian Kohne (“Get A Job”).

Vincent Kartheiser, aka Pete Campbell, will appear at his “Reception & Salute” on Sunday. With a cool, mid-century vibe, the “Mad Men” themed menu includes mini beef Wellingtons, oysters Rockefeller and “Dr. Arnold Rosen and Sylvia’s fondue.”

Especially interesting for Big Islanders, are 11 made-in-Hawaii films—four features and seven shorts— some joining the indie films with bigger budgets and name stars at the top of the list.

In Friday night showings, a film from South Kona, “The Land of Eb” is a slice of not-always-easy life in the Marshallese community. Using no professional actors, the filmmakers create an authentic, engaging story well told in everyday moments, as Jacob picks coffee to feed the family, patches the holes, fixes the shortwave, drives the kids to band practice and makes the constant, quiet sacrifices to hold his family together as long as he can.

On Sunday, at the opposite end of the spectrum, “Strange Frame,” filmmaker G.B. Hajim tells his story in neon colors, vivid, hand-drawn animation and killer music. Exploring the transformative power of love between two women, the film deploys some of sci fi’s favorite voices: Claudia Black, Tara Strong, Ron Glass, Tim Curry, Alan Tudyk, with George Takei, Michael Dorn and others.

Also on Sunday, filmmaker Eric Nemoto’s “Parts of the Same Circle” weaves 11 intertwining plots into the rich fabric of familiar Honolulu life, with surprising connections. Its diverse cast of golf buddies, extended ohana, an obituary writer, a nursing home comedian and even ghosts, shares stories not just of grief and fear, but redemption, humor and joyful release at the end of life.

Hawaii films face tough competition from mainland and international entries, such as “Home” which follows the razor-edged path of “Jack,” played by Gbenga Akinnagbe (“The Wire”). Soon to be released from his group residence, Jack uses every connection, from his violent past to the tenuous present, to create a safe place to be with his son.

On the Sunday schedule, Danny Glover and Graham Greene star in “Chasing Shakespeare,” a re-telling of the penultimate love story, this time between an African American youth and a girl of the Native American “Lightning Clan.” Family duty, mystical forces and true love take them on an epic journey together and apart.

A number of moviegoers will be asked to rate each film they see, and votes are tallied to determine the “Audience Choice” winners. The “Best Feature” and “Best Short” will be shown again on Monday, May 27, at the “Best of the Fest” event, with Hapa in concert. “Best of the Fest” also includes a silent auction for Tripler Army Medical Center’s Fisher House, and a portion of each ticket sold goes to the Food Basket, Inc., Hawaii Island’s food bank.

“It’s going to be tough for the audiences to pick the winners,” said Sears. “After eight years, BIFF is drawing a higher caliber film, wider audience and more interest and enthusiasm from filmmakers and the film industry. Film is good for Hawaii and we are all excited about the possibilities.”

Tickets are available for individual events, or as inclusive passes. For complete schedule of events and ticket information, plus a sneak preview of some films and full menus for the social functions, visit www.bigislandfilmfestival.com, find them on Facebook or call 883-0394.