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Movie by 'Scrubs' star wins Maui festival

Zach Braff may be familiar to TV viewers for his role on "Scrubs," but his profile has been growing with his film "Garden State."
Arts, Culture and Entertainment
Maui (Hawaii)

(CNN) -- A newcomer's directorial debut, "Garden State," walked away with the award for best feature film at the fifth annual Maui Film Festival, which wrapped up this week after a record-setting turnout.

Best known for his role on NBC's television series "Scrubs," Zach Braff directed, wrote and starred in "Garden State," which opens in limited release June 30. The movie, also starring Natalie Portman, revolves around a young man who returns to his family's home in New Jersey after a 10-year estrangement.

Braff said real life inspired many elements of the movie, but the script, which he wrote in four months, is not totally autobiographical.

"I'd say about 75 percent of the story is based on true stories from growing up, [but] not necessarily things happening to me," Braff told CNN recently. "Things that have happened to some friends of mine, things I read about in the paper -- I just wove them all together and made this movie about going home to New Jersey.

"This movie's really about someone who's opening up a new chapter in their life."

Best documentary feature honors went to "Festival Express," a chronicle of a series of concerts by artists such as Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead in 1970. "Of Wind and Waves: The Life of Woody Brown," a look at the legendary surfer, took home the best short film award.

Rounding out the top festival awards was a special audience prize for "What the #$*! Do We Know," starring Marlee Matlin and combining documentary, drama, animation and elaborate special effects.

Tributes to producer Ted Hope, Woody Harrelson, Bill Maher, and Angela Basset were also included as part of the five-day festivities.

Other films on the festival's cinematic menu generating buzz included "The Notebook," "Two Brothers," "Saved!" and "Napoleon Dynamite."

More than 20,000 movie professionals and fans swarmed Maui for the festival, according to organizers.

Now in its fifth year, the event joins other film festivals such as Sundance and Cannes that use dazzling locales as a draw. Taking advantage of the tropical scenery, one of Maui's most unusual venues is the Celestial Cinema, which projects movies on a giant screen as viewers sit with the ocean to their backs under a nighttime sky.

"The megaplexes are great places for big blockbuster films during the summer, but the Maui Film Festival is a good place for movies that are more understated and that reach more for the heart than anything else," said Barry Rivers, the festival's creator.

"When you're outside in this beautiful natural environment, it's dissonant to see some special effects film. There's a certain kind of film that feels right in that setting."

Nearly 4,000 showed up for the opening night screening of at the Celestial Cinema, and more than 20,000 overall attended the festival during its run.

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