Time flies when you're watching a well-made film, and time has flown for a now 10-year-old Huntington Beach festival that specializes in indie flicks and the people who make them.
"The goal has always been and continues to be to share independent movies with an appreciative community of film watchers," says Brian Barsuglia, the SoCal Film Fest director. "It is an art form that takes an incredible amount of work and collaboration, and to complete a film is an incredible task. When the theater is full, I feel like that goal has been realized. When the theater isn't full, it's still a work in progress."
Even in this 10th year, he dreams of filling more empty seats.
"I would love to see it grow and continue to gain recognition in Orange County for the filmmakers involved," Barsuglia says. "It's always been a grassroots event with the challenge of creating awareness on a minimal budget. Each year it becomes more and more ingrained in Orange County culture and I'd really like to see that continue to develop. Over the last nine years, about 85 percent of our audience comes from the LA area; I'd really like to see more OC attendees!"
There are many draws for locals at this year's festival, which includes the "brick and mortar" events and screenings of 45 films today through Sunday at Huntington Beach Central Library Theater and online-only viewings of those and about 60 more Sunday through Sunday, Oct. 5-12. Pricing is tiered from about $4 to see one flick, $8 for a bundle of, say, documentaries, more if you want to attend associated parties and events, and up to an all-inclusive pass that gets you into everything on land or online for a dirt-cheap $40. (Visit SoCalFilmFest.com to see all the options, schedules and more details.)
Today's highlight is the festival kick-off feature Mecca II (at 7:30 p.m.), a surf epic that finds director Bryan Johnson's cameras following pro surfers, including audience Q&A participants Ricky Whitlock, David Suhadonlnik and JD Lewis. On Thursday you won't want to miss The Toy Soldiers, director Erik Peter Carlson's coming-of-age dramedy that was shot in and around Huntington Beach and gets a theatrical release in November. Friday features short selections of comedies, music videos, micro shorts and horror flicks–as well as an audience Q&A with Naked Zombie Girl's … erm … titular character Meghan Chadeayne. This is also the night of the fest's awards ceremony.
Among the dramatic shorts screening Saturday is one with star power, director Rachel Howard's Sins of the Father, which stars the leader of the Mayans on Sons of Anarchy Emilio Rivera and was shot by veteran cinematographer Russell Carpenter, who is known for his work on True Lies and Titanic, which won him an Oscar. (Cast and crew members are scheduled to attend.) Other films worth checking out on the schedule include: Russell Emanuel's Restoration of Paradise, which is about the Bolsa Chica Wetalnds; Shadow, a surf-themed short that was also shot in Huntington Beach; and Jason Kartalian's Seahorses, which is billed as the "ultimate indie date movie."
"This year we have worked to really make each screening program its own event with red carpet entrances and Q&As after the screenings. I'm looking forward to watching the connection between audiences and filmmakers in a very community-oriented atmosphere," says Barsuglia, who adds that one of the great things about his event is you never know who you'll bump into.
"There have been some fantastic moments over the last few years," he says. "I think one surprise occurred when cinematographer Trent Opaloch (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Elysium) participated in a Q&A and later hired a couple of our interns to work on a project a few months after." That sure beats a job fair!
Past and current festival participants also praise the event's chumminess.
"The SoCal Film Festival is close enough to be Hollywood yet has a remarkable intimate small town feel," says Kartalian, who first participated in the event as a panelist talking about film distribution and is back this year with the aforementioned Seahorses, which he wrote, directed and considers "the culmination of my work in the film industry."
"I love the cool venue that's next to a vibrant library that reflects its founder's scholastic background," Kartalian says of the festival and Barsuglia. "I feel it is a perfect place to share Seahorses."
He first met Barsuglia at the 2006 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco, where both were showing horror movies they made. The SoCal Film Festival director invited Kartalian to come to Huntington Beach and check it out.
"Throughout the years I really enjoyed the diverse and compelling films the SoCal Film Festival has programmed," Kartalian says. "The films un-spooled are everything from genre horror to sophisticated art house. SoCal has also presented beautiful films about the Southern Californian lifestyle, surfing and motocross. Best of all, SoCal really shines a light on films that are made outside the studio system. It's also a great place to get up close and personal with the filmmakers who made the films."
He discovered this from both sides on film panels, having shared his experiences selling movies at the Cannes Market and American Film Market ("The panel was lively and informative") and attending a screenwriting panel at a later SoCal fest ("It was quite inspiring").
"Brian saw the film and felt it represented his festival," Kartalian says of the fruit of that experience. "I feel it was a brave programming choice including Seahorses in the festival because it is a challenging film with complex characters. It is a film about two very broken people dealing with loss, who find love."
Barsuglia was also attracted to Seahorses' Orange County ties; parts were shot in Aliso Viejo and Silver Screen Dream Factory in Anaheim. Likewise, he wants his festival to support local filmmakers like Huntington Beach's Russell Emanuel, who was first there eight years ago with his short film Girl With Gun. As mentioned above, he returns this year with the Bolsa Chica wetlands doc Restoration of Paradise, which, given the fest location, "I thought it would be a good fit for the SoCal Film Festival," the filmmaker says.
"Over its history, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands has been a haven: for Native American tribes, who over 8,000 years ago produced mysterious artifacts known as cog stones; to a Spanish ranch settlement before this area became part of the United States; to a world-renowned gun club, which touted visitors such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; to an extensive oil field development during the 1920s and 1930s; and finally to a restoration effort successfully spearheaded by a dedicated group known as the Amigos de Bolsa Chica."
Narrated by Robert Picardo, Emanuel's film includes interviews with locals like David and Margaret Carlberg of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, dogwalker Sharon Sikora and business owner Hieu Tran. "This documentary takes you from the detailed and varied history of the terrain to the present-day important bird sanctuary where over 200 species of birds can be spotted yearly, to finally what the future holds for this extraordinary paradise."
Also returning to SoCal is screenwriter Giovanni "Gio" Sanseviero, whose short film The Empty Building was accepted into the inaugural festival in 2004. "It took the Best Short Film Runner-up position, and I was thoroughly elated," Sanseviero recalls. "I am still grateful for their generous consideration.
"I remembered being there in person among very dedicated people. They were all really concerned with properly presenting a venue that, while barely up on its feet, had to show an immediate homage to the filmmaking craft, which already was a century ahead of their stay. … They pulled it off with flying colors. And a decade later, obviously, their attention to that same concern clearly remains stronger than ever."
He's back this weekend with his screenplay They Call'm the Hook!–and the same "enthusiasm" he experienced as a first-timer.
"I already know in advance that my work will be respected with real time, true effort, honest consideration and without the politics, and, quite frankly, the cheesy B.S. of some other institutions," Sanseviero says. "There's absolutely no way I was not going to submit to them."
SoCalFilmFest.com is the place to get details on all the movies that are not mentioned in this post and links to those and the ones that are mentioned here. Also worth checking out are facebook.com/socalfilmfestival and twitter.com/socalfilmfest2014.
To another 10 years!
Check out the poster on the next page …