AFI Dallas International Film Festival
FIRST-CLASS ENTERTAINMENT FROM THE FIRST NAME IN FILM • From March 27 to April 6, the American Film Institute hosted the AFI DALLAS International Film Festival, presented by Target. While the festival, in its second year, employs the same hospitality and mix of independent and gala features as other AFI events, it is the “Dallas audiences themselves who are (arguably) engaged to a degree that few other cities can equal,” according to John Wildman, the fest’s director of press and public relations. “It is not uncommon for post-screening Q&As to continue into the lobby of theaters after their allotted time because filmgoers in Dallas are truly appreciative and enthused by the artists’ filmmaking process.”
This year audiences were treated to features like What Just Happened?, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert DeNiro, both of whom were on hand to salute the movie’s executive producer, Todd Wagner (who also happens to be a Dallas native). The closing night gala brought out Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron, the director and star, respectively, of Battle in Seattle. Theron was also honored with one of five AFI DALLAS Star Awards.
But since “the emphasis is primarily on bringing the most exciting and provocative films that are currently available to Dallas, regardless of their premiere status,” according to Wildman, the festival also screened and awarded smaller independent films like the Russian feature Mermaid, which picked up the Target Ten Narrative Feature award and Amal, by Richie Mehta, which won favor with the audience for Best Narrative Feature.—Mallory Potosky
California Independent Film Festival
BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN HOLLYWOOD AND INDIEWOOD FOR 10 YEARS • There are two sides to today’s moviemaking scale: Hollywood to the right, Indiewood to the left. Somewhere in the middle is the California Independent Film Festival, which celebrated its 10th annual event in Livermore from April 16 to 20.
But this is not a novice fest. CIFF celebrates all things indie—whether that means a first-time writer-director like Charles Oliver, whose Take lived up to its name by scooping up awards for Best Picture as well as Best Actor and Actress accolades for stars Jeremy Renner and Minnie Driver, or well-known Hollywood icons like producer John Daly (Platoon, The Last Emperor) and actress-director Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own), who picked up the fest’s Lifetime Achievement and Golden Slate Awards, respectively.
Going totally “independent” by serving as the writer, director, producer and editor of The Flyboys paid off for moviemaker Rocco DeVilliers; the film was recognized for DeVilliers’ direction and composer Lisle Moore’s score. “The California Independent Film Festival was very nicely put together,” says DeVilliers. “It had an impressive group of judges and was very well attended.”
It’s a fitting tribute for a festival founded only minutes from Niles Canyon, former home of The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, which produced more than 350 films in the area from 1912 to 1916. The California Independent Film Festival Association continues that tradition today with this, its flagship event, as well as the Danville International Children’s Film Festival and the California Independent Horror Film Festival.—Jennifer M. Wood
Magnolia Independent Film Festival
A SPIRIT THAT KEEPS GROWING • Even though the Magnolia Independent Film Festival was turned over to Mississippi’s Starkville Area Arts Council in 2008, it continues to be an intimate event where “the spirit of the [original] festival stays strong,” says festival director Elaine Peterson. “The film festival is relatively small,” Peterson explains. “Only one screening is shown at a time. But that means that everyone sees the same films and that starts conversations.” It also makes for “great camaraderie,” says Charlotte Magnussen, wife of late festival founder Ron Tibbett.
The Mag, which in its 11th year took place February 14 to 16, began in West Point and was the first film festival hosted in the Magnolia State. Now held in the university town of Starkville, the fest continues to grow each year, with a lineup that “gets stronger and stronger,” according to J. Alec Hawkins, two-time fest winner and 2008 judge. “It was a daunting task to pick the best of the best.” In the end, Scott T. Jones’ Plainview, Daniel Lee’s Memphis Zombie Attack: The Documentary and Tim Jackson’s Where’s My Close-Up, Mr. Thornton? were among those that took home awards.—Mallory Potosky
Sedona International Film Festival
CLASSIC FILMS AMIDST ARIZONA’S RED ROCKS • Amidst the sprawling red rocks of Arizona, in a state full of growing production hot spots, the Sedona International Film Festival closed out its 14th annual event on March 2, awarding prizes in the areas of both Directors’ and Audience Choice. Scoring points on both sides was first-time director Nic Balthazar, whose Ben X, based on his novel, was the Best Foreign Feature Film for both the jury and audience.
Over the past decade, the Sedona fest has established itself as a unique event, and its list of prizes proves it, with superlatives like “Most Inspiring” thrown into the mix. For example, Mark Benjamin’s The Music in Me won the fest’s award for Most Inspiring Documentary while Josh Tickell’s Fields of Fuel, about a man on an eco mission, was named Most Compelling Documentary.
The fest offers plenty of classic entertainment, too, and this year included screenings of Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne. “What’s so amazing about seeing a film like Casablanca or Sunset Boulevard on the big screen is that you see so many exciting values and elements that you can’t see on television,” says Osborne. “You may have seen Casablanca 10 or 12 times, but there’s nothing like seeing it in a big theater.” For his part, the festival’s executive director Patrick Schweiss couldn’t decide “who’s more excited, [Osborne] or me.”—Jennifer M. Wood
Ashland Independent Film Festival
PACKING IN AUDIENCES IN OREGON • The 7th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival wrapped on April 7th after five days of packed theaters. Of the festival’s 130 films and events, 101 sold out, resulting in 16,000 tickets being distributed. The AIFF presented “Handheld from the Heart,” a talk and clip retrospective of Albert Maysles’ career and featured screenings of Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and his latest work, The Gates, co-directed with Antonio Ferrera. Maysles was also presented with the fest’s Lifetime Achievement Award, of which he noted, “I have received many honors; none of them have touched me as deeply and soulfully as what I’ve received here. The audience here knows exactly when to laugh and when to cry.”
Other award winners included Helen Hunt, who screened her directorial debut, Then She Found Me, and received the festival’s Rogue Award. The Rogue Creamery Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature was awarded to George and Beth Gage’s American Outrage and Mary Stuart Masterson’s The Cake Eaters, starring Bruce Dern, won the John C. Schweiger Award for Best Narrative Feature. Tom Hines’ Chronic Town won the Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C. Award Award for Best Cinematography. Hirschfeld, the 2007 A.S.C President’s Award Honoree and director of photography for films such as Young Frankenstein and My Favorite Year, presented the award.—Tom Olbrich
International Family Film Festival
WHERE YOUNG MOVIEMAKERS TRY FOR WORLD PEACE • Worldwide cinema and young moviemakers came together in Hollywood at the International Family Film Festival, where the theme was World Peace Through Filmmaking. As only a family-friendly fest can do, local students were bused in to view movies in the Made For Young People By Young People program and engage in lively Q&As with their peers. “We believe that young people have the ability to bridge generational, racial, religious and cultural gaps, communicating through film to a larger audience and encouraging an honest dialogue between all people,” says program director Patte Dee McKee.
In an effort to promote the creation of films that appeal to audiences of all ages, the festival awarded All Roads Lead Home with its Best Feature Award. According the movie’s director-producer Dennis Fallon, it’s “a family film in the style of Because of Winn-Dixie, Flicka and Dreamer,” which made it perfect “for a film festival that would bring the whole family out to see a movie.”
Conchita Nora Villa, writer-director-producer of Directors Gold Award winner Alondra Smiles, appreciated that “Because this was a family-friendly festival, we were able to invite all our family and friends and that made our world premiere even more special.”—Mallory Potosky
Victoria Film Festival
STIMULATING INTEREST IN THE MOVIEMAKING MEDIUM • Cutting-edge film came to Canada this February in the form of the Victoria Film Festival. The 14th annual event, which ran February 1 to 10, certainly remained true to its mission of exposing “youth and adults to a broad range of cultural, artistic and philosophical ideas and lifestyles through the presentation of film, video and new media in order to stimulate critical analysis and inspire an interest in using the medium as a creative tool.”
Getting creative this year were feature, documentary and short moviemakers from Canada and abroad. Local moviemaker Richie Mehta claimed the award for Best Canadian Feature for Amal, which has been a huge hit on the festival circuit. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld also scored big with audiences when The Hammer, his follow-up to the hit indie Kissing Jessica Stein, was named Audience Favorite.
Partnering with local film organizations, VFF offers several partner prizes, including the Star!TV Best Feature Film, which went to Anders Thomas Jensen’s Adam’s Apples, and the InVision Prize for Best Student film, which went to Nick Ozeki’s Mamitas.—Jennifer M. Wood
San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
KEEPING LOCAL TRADITIONS ALIVE ON CALIFORNIA’S CENTRAL COAST • What began as a weeklong celebration of classic films in honor of local moviemaking icon King Vidor in 1993 has since become the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, a celebration of 100 new and classic films of every genre and from every corner of the world. This year’s event took place March 7th to 16th.
More than a dozen awards were handed out this year, including a $1,000 cash prize to Moon Molson, whose Pop Foul won Best in Competition and Best Short, and a tie between Jeffrey Schwartz’s Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story and Mark McLaughlin’s Hollywood Singing and Dancing for Best Feature Documentary. “We were happy to rub shoulders with distinguished industry professionals at the SLOIFF: Veterans in the film industry, even an Academy Award winner or two,” notes Ron Berrett, who won Best Feature Film for An American in China.
Though the festival is definitely an international event, it’s also very much dedicated to its hometown. Paying continued tribute to former resident King Vidor—who still holds the Guinness World Record for longest career as a film director— the fest presents an annual award in the late director’s name “to a talented filmmaker, actor or film artist in recognition of his or her exceptional artistic contributions to the motion picture industry and to filmmaking in general.” The list of recipients reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood history, including George Sidney, Delbert Mann, Edward Dmytryk, Robert Wise, Eva Marie Saint, Morgan Freeman and Norman Jewison. This year, Peter Fonda was added to that list.—Jennifer M. Wood
The Indie Short Film Competition
WINNING BIG IN ITS INAUGURAL YEAR • With industry sponsors including ProductionHUB, Glidecam, Sony and yours truly, MovieMaker Magazine, the Fort Lauderdale-based Indie Short Film Competition announced the winners of its 2007 event—more than two dozen in all—and considered year one a complete success.
While not a brick-and-mortar festival event, the competition offers short film and videomakers worldwide “a great opportunity to advance their careers, gain recognition and receive international exposure in the filmmaking industry,” according to the competition founders. “Entering this innovative, filmmaker-friendly competition gives you a shot at being discovered by the right people and opening the right doors to get your short film seen by top industry professionals in the filmmaking business.”
Some of the chosen few for the inaugural event included Britsh moviemaker Simon Ellis, whose short film Soft took home the festival’s grand prize of more than $5,000 in cash and prizes from the event’s previously-mentioned sponsors, with Denie Pentecost’s Sexy Thing and Monica Detgen’s Prime Territory coming in as runners-up.
For the Best in Category awards, Jesse and Daniel Quinones’ Cold Calling won first place in Comedy, Hussein Juma and Farhan Daya’s Iota took the Horror/Thriller category and Stephanie Sellars’ Julie and the Clown won the Drama category. The 2008 competition is now open for entries.—Jennifer M. Wood