When I was a kid, I loved going to summer camp. I ate… a lot.

Even as a child, I loved going away to a place where I was presented with a smorgasbord of fun activities that challenged and entertained me. Film festivals, especially ones like the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF), are like summer camp. SLOIFF is in a ridiculously charming town that you can walk from end to end, and filled with activities that’ll never stop keeping you busy.

I love the energy, the talent, and the communion of moviemakers who bring their stories together at film festivals. I also prefer the smaller and mid-level fests—where people know your name and your film, and it’s not as much about selling your property to Netflix as it is about celebrating moviemakers in a supportive environment. Look, I hope everyone sells their projects. But at SLOIFF, the point is to live in the moment, celebrate talent, and see great films.

Prior to 2019, I had never been to the SLO Film Fest. Like most people who know of the area, the closest I’ve ever gotten to the festival is the kitschy Madonna Inn. So I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled into the gorgeous Granada Hotel (as a jury member, I enjoyed a perk or three) and was immediately swept up in the energy of the weekend. I had already seen eight of the fest’s narrative features and was dutifully impressed, so I knew how high the bar had already been set (My favorites were Jesús del Cerro’s Hawaii, Robert Jury’s Working Man, and Leon Chambers’ Above the Clouds—all strong and inventive stories which deserve to be seen by audiences on a big screen). I quickly examined my well-stocked swag bag and headed over to the moviemakers’ lounge which was filled with moviemakers talking about their projects. There was also food. I ate… a lot.

They say you can’t do Rome in a day. The metaphorical “they” are incorrect, because once upon a time in my youth, I did indeed see Rome in a day; albeit, a very long and exhausting one. You can, however, do a film festival in a day… and definitely in two. The two days I spent in San Luis Obispo were jam-packed, as I saw shorts, narrative features, and documentaries. I loved Leonora Pitts’ The Matchmaker and Lyndon Barrois’ Prizefighter. I went to several restaurants and I ate… a lot. I participated in a panel about how to make independent films. I saw King Vidor Award-honoree Alfred Molina entertain a packed theater with his anecdotes about being a top character actor since he burst on the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark nearly 40 years ago. As Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz interviewed him, Molina kept the audience in constant stitches with funny, self-deprecating humor which I’m fairly sure made every audience member go home and put all of Molina’s films in their queue. The after-party, hosted by the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, was beautifully set with several local wineries and restaurants providing fare. I ate… a lot.

I collect film festivals. Beyond Sundance and Tribeca, there are so many amazing festivals that deserve to be celebrated—Bentonville Film Festival, Women Texas Film Festival, The Women’s Film Festival in Philadelphia, Hell’s Half Mile, Breckenridge, and Woods Hole to name a few. And the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival—this is a film festival I would come back to… a lot. MM

San Luis Obispo International Film Festival ran March 12-17, 2019. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Spring 2019 issue. Featured Image: Character actor Alfred Molina Receives the King Vidor Award for Career Excellence at San Luis Obispo International Film Festival 2019. Image courtesy of San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.