Pismo the Surfing Goat, subject of a short film, entertains a sell-out “Surf Nite in SLO” crowd at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival

Some festivals can make documentary filmmakers feel like the ugly stepsisters at the ball. So it’s refreshing to discover a festival that champions every genre.

Before I even arrived at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival to screen my feature documentary East LA Interchange, I already felt welcomed by the amazing team of Festival Director Wendy Eidson and her assistant, Nancy Ross-Joynt. They made it clear that all filmmakers were respected and supported at SLOIFF. Looking through their catalogue confirmed this—I saw that the festival had programmed an abundance of strong documentaries.

I can’t say enough about the stunning location for the festival. The drive from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo featured three hours of gorgeous scenery along the Pacific Coast, with gently breaking waves on one side and green mountains and vineyards on the other. The town itself has been extolled by Oprah as the “Happiest City in America,” and it’s easy to see why.

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The Historic Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo. Photograph by Chris Chew, courtesy of Bluewater Media

Most of the festival events took place within walking distance of each other. The journey from the historic Fremont Theatre to the Palm Theatre, then to the Hollywood & Vines Festival Tent, was a five-minute stroll. My partner and I arrived on a Thursday and enjoyed walking around the popular, open-air Downtown SLO Farmer’s Market with its fresh produce, locally made crafts and live entertainment. Located right next to the Farmer’s Market, the Festival Tent was the place to go during the festival. Inside we met other visiting filmmakers, festival patrons and volunteers, while sampling wine from local vineyards.

We were thrilled that we had enthusiastic full houses for both of our screenings—a highly educated and engaged audience. Conventional festival wisdom goes that if half the audience stays for the Q&A, it’s a good crowd. At SLOFF, our Q&As were as packed as the screenings themselves. I was most grateful for the audiences’ feedback, because that’s what inspires me to keep working as an indie filmmaker despite the many challenges.

SLO Goat web

Pismo the Surfing Goat, subject of a short film, entertains a sell-out “Surf Nite in SLO” crowd at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival

By the end of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, I knew I wasn’t the stepsister—I was Cinderella at the ball, anxious not to leave. If you want the opportunity to screen your work to a film-savvy audience who appreciates your vision and years of hard work, this is the festival to attend. I can’t wait to come back with my next film! MM

Betsy Kalin is an award-winning producer/director, currently touring festivals with East LA Interchange and beginning pre-production on her next feature documentary.

The 2016 edition of the San Luis International Film Festival took place March 15-20, 2016. Visit the festival’s website here.