When describing Branson, Missouri to his friends, Bart Simpson recalls Homer's comparison that it was, "like Vegas, if it was run by Ned Flanders." That's more or less the vibe of the Irvine International Film Festival that ended its week-long run last week at Laguna Hills Cinema. When looking at the fledgling festival and comparing it to other festivals in OC like the Newport Beach Film Festival, IIFF is the most relaxed, family-oriented fest of them all, where Flanders himself would give two ecstatic "thumb-diddly- umbs" up.
Since its location in South County is obviously more conservative, you may ask why I seem surprised. Even at the ripe young age that I am (I'm old enough to buy liquor but not old enough to rent a car) I've navigated the world of film festivals for years from different angles; I've collected tickets, ushered people to seats, worked graphic design, reviewed screeners, and now for this infernal rag I've had the pleasure of attending and covering them. It's ingrained in me to expect the buzzing of multiple photographers, miles of red carpet and glamorous arm candy attached to producers and directors. This festival, even on opening night, barely caused much of a stir in the stretch of Laguna Hills Mall. There wasn't even alcohol provided for guests at the opening night party. Maybe you can attribute that to strict liquor commandments of the mall or even an issue of funds on the part of the festival. All I know is that I got a free beer given to me in a fucking glass chalice at the NBFF opening night party so I merely blinked at my plastic cup of water for five straight minutes at the IIFF party.
I guess after living in SanTana all my life, and being so close to the paradise that is Newport Beach and South Coast Plaza, I'm accustomed- nay- spoiled by the culture and glamor I've been exposed to all these years, that coming to IIFF has been one of those seeing-how-the-other-half-lives lessons in its most eye-opening incarnation. But for what it was, the fest actually did deliver some decent programming. As Coker gloriously detailed in his list of films to expect, there were some interesting nuggets of independent film. And now that the Oscar nominees have been issued, a whopping seven titles featured in the fest are among those up for awards. Gloat on, festival programmers, gloat on.
First up in Coker's list was Karen Black: On Acting. This was the one I was looking forward to the most as well. It's a frank documentary of Karen Black discussing the nitty gritty of her creative process, how she works with directors, actors, her most difficult moments on set, memories of Jack Nicholson and Robert Altman, and so, so, so much more. Stripped away of B-roll aids such as film stills, photographs, and film footage, your gaze is 100% fixed on Black; the passion in her voice and twinkle in her eyes bring out the beauty we all know and love- and dearly miss. While it was Coker's and my top pick, it doesn't seem like it was for anyone else. Screening on a Saturday morning at 11am, it was poorly attended, so much so that Steve Eckelberry, Black's husband present at the screening, vocally expressed his dismay about it at the Q&A session. It's a shame it couldn't have enjoyed the audience size of some of the later screenings that day.
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Ed Fucking Asner was set to receive his Lifetime Achievement award on Sunday night, and that he did. He sat with the audience as the short film Good Men screened, followed by a reel of Asner's roles throughout his career (never knew he played so many characters with accents). At the Q&A, he gave the audience a very colorful greeting: "Hi losers!" The quipster also provided some good insights for young actors to build their careers, and ended the event on a high note, saying how pleased he was that film culture was being kept alive in Orange County. Aw, shucks!
Earlier that morning was a showcase of short films highlighting excellence in cinematography. Around six shorts were shown, each one vibrantly different in subject matter and mood, all around encompassing an amazing range of filmmakers. The sparse group of attendants made the most of the Q&A session with cinematographers Guy Skinner, VaNessa Manlunas and director Silvia Sether, asking deep questions about independent filmmaking and technical issues. I also have to give props to Manlunas and Sether for being the only filmmakers in the fest, and probably of today, who made their short feature King of Norway in beautiful 16mm. Who says analog is dead?
Doc Pomus, Torn, Facing Fear, Plastic Paradise, My Mother's Voice, Eddie Adams: Saigon '68; the list of great films shown IIFF goes on. And in the end, really, it's all about the films. IIFF has only been around for three years, so who knows what identity it will craft for itself in the years to come. It's good to know that the audience for independent cinema will always be there.