Veteran director Rob Reiner, whose romantic comedy Alex & Emma kicked off the fourth Maui Film Festival this week, has hinted that his next film may be a parable of self-discovery set in space.

The embryonic project, which is tentatively titled Imagine, would centre on an astronaut who undergoes a life-changing experience while working on a space station. As a result he is forced to re-evaluate his relationship with his son.

The film-maker was speaking during an on-stage interview after collecting the inaugural Lights Camera Passion award in recognition of his "heartfelt commitment to make films that matter".

Earlier Reiner, whose credits include When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spinal Tap and Stand By Me, explained to an appreciative audience at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel that the underlying theme of his romantic comedies remained the same.

"Men are fools until they meet the right person and then they become geniuses," he said.

Alex & Emma stars Luke Wilson as an author who has 30 days to write a novel or die at the hands of gangsters. Kate Hudson plays the love interest and stenographer who helps him complete the task. It opens in the US on Jun 20.

Festival executive director Barry Rivers said the opening night outdoor screening drew an unconfirmed record attendance of 2,200.

Prior to Reiner's appearance Geena Davis was presented with the inaugural Stella Award, named after Rivers' wife and in recognition of Davis' "contribution to advancing the stature of women in film".

Davis, who famously played Thelma in Ridley Scott's seminal road movie Thelma And Louise and won the best supporting actress Oscar for 1988's The Accidental Tourist, paid tribute to her string of varied roles.

"From the beginning I hoped I could experience many different genres and many different parts, so I am really thrilled to have accomplished that goal."

The role of Thelma in particular proved to be a watershed. "This time people were saying things like, 'That movie changed my life.' I had never really thought about what an impact films can have on people's lives."

The actress has not acted in film since giving birth to her daughter 14 months ago and added: "I am going to continue to be extremely fussy and it is going to take some good parts to get me out of the house."

The festival's grand opening night reception a day earlier on Jun 11 drew many to the palatial Hawaiian setting of the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel, including Chinese star Bai Ling, Reiner and Davis.

Festival executive director Rivers trawled through 700 films for the event, which runs through Jun 15.Highlights include Dan Ireland's upcoming romantic comedy Passionada, Niki Caro's Sundance Audience Award winner Whale Rider and Stephen Frears' acclaimed immigration drama Dirty Pretty Things.

Documentaries include Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers And Tides, the late Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese's A Decade Under The Influence and Will Parrinello's Dreaming Of Tibet.

This weekend the festival will also host a series of panel discussions on documentaries, short films and the challenges faced by young female actresses.

On Jun 13 Anthony Hopkins will receive the Silversword Award Tribute for his contribution to film, followed by an on-stage interview. Clint Eastwood was the recipient last year.

Greg Kinnear, who recently starred in Auto Focus and earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for As Good As It Gets in 1998, will collect the inaugural Navigator Award in honour of his distinctive career.