Maui Film Festival Director: “We’re All Doing Our Best” to Move Forward Amid Devastating Wildfires

“They have called it the worst disaster that’s ever happened to Hawaii — but we’re all doing our best to keep everything moving forward and getting better for everybody. A lot of the upcountry got its ‘ōkole kicked, and Lahaina doesn’t really even exist anymore,” says Barry Rivers, the director of the Maui Film Festival, which he founded in 2000, on a phone call a few days after fires ripped through the island of Maui. The fire has destroyed the village of Lahaina and unleashed a death toll that now stands at 106 even as search efforts continue. 

Amid the devastation, Rivers ­— like many in the community — has been busy lending a hand to help those affected by the disaster. “We’re just doing everything we can to make people’s lives better than they are at the moment,” shares Rivers. “The ohana [family] spirit is in the air for a lot of us that have lived here our whole lives. We may not have been born here, but even my kid was busy today at a food bank making food for people. We’re finding things in our home we can offer so people have more clothing than they had. We’re in it and we are going nowhere and a lot of people like us are going nowhere except to keep rebuilding this place we all love and call home back to the incredibly special place it is and has meant to the world for the longest time. I think that’s something we can count on; it’s just going to take a while.”

To that point, FEMA has estimated that costs of the long-term rebuilding and recovery process in Maui will top $5.5 billion. Among the celebrity names who have stepped up to help with donations and aid during the aftermath of the fires are Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sánchez, who have announced a $100 million Maui Fund, and Matthew McConaughey, who is working with nonprofit Baby2Baby to fund a plane bringing emergency supplies to the island. 

Rivers himself has been donating to the Maui Country Club, which supports the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s rapid-response Maui Strong Fund. The country club, he says, “has had an incredible number of people from all over the island bringing clothing, food, water, cars, all kinds of important things and they’re disseminating it all from there. Everyone has stepped up, offering places for people to stay. It’s a wonderful community, a place where everyone really cares about each other and instead of making the moment feel like an every man for himself kind of thing, it’s decidedly not that.” He adds, “Friends of mine have been doing food and fuel drops, some are flying their private jets with food for people. Everyone is just doing everything they can.”

He also shares that his children found themselves in the line of the fires: “My kids had a pretty wild ride. They barely, barely saved the house and flower farm that they have been working insanely to build and pull together upcountry — maybe about 3,000 feet from one of the first places trees fell and started to spark fire.”

As for the festival, Rivers says that he is planning an event “sooner rather than later that helps the community rise in hope of what might be once again after this nightmare that we’ve all been living. I’m working on doing that maybe three, four months down the road. I haven’t yet had a minute to fully think through, but we’re in it for the long haul — I’ve been here 43 years now. We’re really just trying to make the best thing we can out of the worst thing that’s ever happened to all of us on Maui.”

Rivers also advises that people donate to the Maui United Way, which provides direct aid. For further information on donating and volunteering as well as finding shelters, food and other relief for those affected, he recommends going to Maui Rapid Response

Maui native and Hawaiian cultural advisor Kainoa Horcajo, co-owner of The Mo’olelo Group consultancy, additionally tells THR that he is working with Maui Rapid Response to help fill in gaps even amid all the work being done by the government and nonprofit agencies. “We need to make sure that people don’t forget about those in need and the community next month, next year,” says Horcajo. “A lot of people want to send supplies and money now, but we are concerned about when that lapses.”

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