By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
Since online killed the video star, it makes sense the ninth-annual SoCal Film Festival not only screens its three feature-length films and a ton of shorts in the 320-seat Huntington Beach Central Library Theater, but also expands the programming on the Internet.
While the land-based action runs the evening of Thursday, Sept. 26, through late Saturday night, the festival experience rages online Sunday through Oct. 6. The Online Screening Room, accessible through socalfilmfest.com, includes films that did and did not roll at the festival proper. That's great from an everybody-sees-the-shows standpoint. But lacking online will be the parties and in-person audience Q&As with filmmakers, which founder and event director Brian Barsuglia promises at each Surf City screening.
"It's incredible to see the originality and ingenuity that comes from indie filmmakers," he notes in an email. "When working with a limited budget and limited resources, filmmakers find ways to be creative and innovative to achieve their goals at an extremely high level. Additionally, they aren't necessarily worried about the mainstream, so they can tell their story their way."
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The festival opens Thursday at the library, its home since 2005, with the "Short But Sweet" program of short films, but the rest of the night is dedicated to the Welcome Party and Awards Ceremony at the Courtyard Marriott in Fountain Valley. That's right: The fest front loads the juried-award-giving before audiences can see all the films. The jury's Best of the Fest Award and the Audience Award do come later, though.
Could an award envelope include the title of a certain post-apocalyptic thriller? Jason Sanders hopes so. Phase Two, the feature-length sci-fi flick he directed and co-wrote, screens Friday night. Set in a future when zombies have had their fill, Phase Two is about a high-strung professor and his tough-minded assistant working on a virus and taking in a naive teen who recently lost her father. Meanwhile, battles rage in the streets, as gangs, outlanders and the infected struggle to survive.
Among those who show up in the picture is Huntington Beach's own Shaun Paul Piccinino, playing an honest G.I. You may have seen Piccinino's visual-effects work on Robot Chicken and Moral Orel. He also co-wrote (with Steve Pisa), co-directed (with Sanders) and played the title role in The Lackey, the story of a baddie who tries to leave the life with his daughter, whom he just met. That indie is not in this festival, but it won Piccinino a 2012 Action On Film award for best editing. He and Sanders plan to attend the Phase Two screening.
Another festival flick with a local connection is Serge Bronstein's The Aztec Box, which was shot in Fullerton and other parts of the county. The found-footage thriller (à la The Blair Witch Project), which screens Saturday afternoon, is about four UC Riverside students who receive an assignment to film a reality show. That leads them to a Riverside police-evidence locker, where they uncover an ancient Aztec sarcophagus connected to a crime from the 1940s. The crew brings the relic home, and all hell breaks loose—literally.
Saturday evening's feature is Past God, which is also steeped in the indie ethic, as Nick McCallum wrote, directed and stars in the noir thriller that opened the 2012 Beverly Hills Film Festival. McCallum plays James Grant, who left a strict religious upbringing courtesy of his pastor father for rock stardom in Hollywood. While in a pit of drugs and recklessness, James discovers his sister committed suicide, and his desperate search for answers why leads him into high-stakes danger and disturbing flashes from the past.
Bronstein and McCallum plan to attend their screenings, as do the makers of many films in the fest's eight separate shorts programs. Presented through Saturday, they have such titles as "A Touch of Drama," "Short But Silly" and "Beyond Intense." Preview stories like this always give shorts the, uh, shorts, because there are more titles and plot descriptions than space allows. But read up on all of them at socalfilmfest.com (which also has show times and ticket details for all the movies mentioned and not mentioned here).
Ah, hell, one short I'd like to plug based on the beautifully shot trailer is London-based director Michael Lavers' The Rise & Fall of Tom Finley & Sarah Wright, which is about the young man of the title replaying in his mind the magical early days of his intense relationship with the young lady of the title—on the occasion of her dumping him.
The festival closes sometime after the 10 p.m. Wrap Party at Hero's Pub, for which you must hold a party pass or all-access festival pass. But either of those passes gets you free drink tickets "until we hit our spending limit," according to organizers.
You can use an adult beverage to toast the winner of the Golden Ticket, which goes to the film deemed the best in the festival by that esteemed jury referenced earlier. The Audience Award winner will be revealed online Oct. 6.
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