Sundance, Cannes, Toronto. There are more than 3,000 film festivals in the world, but only one has a backdrop like this. The Maui Film Festival must be what heaven is like for cinema buffs.

It took coming to paradise to preview a Cal grad's film earlier this month. A tough job, but somebody had to do it.

"Frank vs. God" was an audience favorite at the Grand Wailea Seaside Cinema, and the Berkeley influence was palpable. Produced by brothers Scott and Stewart Schill, the film deals with issues of God and existence in a humorous and artfully endearing way. And for Scott, it's reminiscent of his time as a philosophy major at Cal.

"This brings me back to the dorm room conversations I had, you know, in the middle of the night -- and you're exploring big questions for the first time as a kid -- which I really loved about my time at Cal," Scott Schill says.

"Frank vs. God" was one of dozens of films that were celebrated at the Maui Film Festival. "Supermensch" and "The Grand Seduction" were also screened and are playing in Bay Area theaters.

But the smell of movie popcorn will never replace that of the puakenikeni -- the fragrant flower thread into leis. That heady perfume, swirled with Hawaiian salt air, is Hawaii's sweet nectar.

Sweet in its own way is the Grand Wailea. Built in 1991 for more than of $800 million, the resort rests on 40 acres of sun-splashed Wailea Beach with fragrant gardens, waterfalls, koi ponds and thatch-roof Polynesian huts. It's hard to imagine a paradise of this magnitude ever being built today and even the name evokes memories from visitors in the Bay Area and beyond.

Meeting filmmakers under the stars, in the shadow of swaying palms, was a highlight -- but not the most memorable part of my visit. Neither was the exquisite island cuisine or the celebrated Spa Grande with its five uber-relaxing Hawaiian sea salt baths.

My "a-ha" moment came from the New England-style chapel, built as a centerpiece of the Grand Wailea and cradled by a koi pond and waterfalls that tumble into the lush, Japanese garden. A favorite for weddings and vow renewals, the chapel is an inspiration with its 17th century Italian glass chandeliers and soaring stained-glass windows.

Each evening at sunset, the church spire would stretch toward the pastel sky as a bridge between heaven and earth. And we, as mere mortals, would be called to the Seaside Cinema -- just steps from the golden sand.

"Frank vs. God" asked us important questions about life and our maker. Maui provided the venue -- and it was divine.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I'll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at www.ginnyprior.com.

FYI

The annual Maui Film Festival takes place in mid-June and features movie screenings and premieres under the stars. Visit http://www.mauifilmfestival.com for details.
Rates and a calendar of events for the Grand Wailea Resort can be found online at http://www.grandwailea.com.