Once again the Temecula Valley Film Festival showcased some amazing talent. After attending the festival I was left with even more awe and appreciation of indie films. Artists displaying their passion for the subject and trying to get their message out to the masses. Most movies are starting to make the film festival rounds, others are deep in the circuit and have already generated buzz and accolades. I even heard some “Oscar” buzz around one such short while I was mingling with filmmakers and stars at the black tie award gala on the last night of the festival. Given what talent I have seen, I would not be the least bit surprised if some of these films went on to bigger things. Being someone who loves and appreciate cinema I have to say that film festivals are a true not miss, if ever you have the chance to attend a film festival - do it! Some of the best work out there starts at film festivals. Remember “Reservoir Dogs” appeared at a film festival, and look what happened to that little movie!
The opening night film was the US premiere of a Canadian film called St. Roz by Gregory Sheppard. The premise; light a candle loose a pound! The movie is set in a poor church near steel mills in a small Canadian town. A mysterious statue shows up and a chubby altar girl discovers that she looses a pound whenever she lights a dollar candle before the statue. Woman swarm to the church, as can be imagined. It's a free ride if you will, eat what ever you want and still loose a pound. When I sat down with Gregory and Michael Lamport (who is the executive producer and also plays a priest in the film) they insisted that they are not trying to send a message or change the world.
“The only reward you get with comedy is when people laugh, the real thing we were trying to do here is actually have some fun, take a theme that’s been way too serious and just make it light.” When I asked where the idea for this story came from, Gregory said that “Maryann Kovalski, the writer, had this idea. What if there was a statue that had miracle weight loss power? Wouldn't that be ridiculous, wouldn't that just throw the catholic church upside down and wouldn't that turn the world upside down.” Gregory and Michael agreed and the film was made 7 years later. Even though it took a while to come to fruition, the wait was well worth it. Given that it is light hearted comedy, with serious subject matter, navigating the editing was tricky. The number one objective was that it had to be funny. When the film premiered to a packed house it was evident by the roars and chuckles that it was indeed funny. Mission accomplished! Gregory says that if it wasn’t for film festivals they wouldn’t have a venue to show their movie. “ We love this indie circuit because the indie circuit is the chance for movies like this.” What’s next for these two funny men? “We hope to find a distributor who feels as passionately about this film as we do, and that it makes its way into theaters across the nation.”
For anyone that is a jazz enthusiast, one film to catch is The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi; which has never before seen footage of the famous jazz musician before he made it big. Guaraldi gained national recognition when one of his singles was picked up to be the theme for the “Peanuts” cartoons back in the early 60’s. From there Vince exploded onto main stream music and it never stopped. When speaking with Andrew Thomas, who along with Toby Gleason, made the full length documentary about Guarldi, it was easy to see why he felt compelled to make this movie. “The story is really about serendipity. It’s about how things fall together when you least expect it and how the clock work in the cosmos will always work in your favor if you open your heart. Because he didn't want to be a big jazz super star. He recorded a song and it took off.”
Toby Gleason (whose father was one of the founders of “Rolling Stone” magazine and a good friend of Guaraldi) and Andrew had found some old footage of Vince that had been shot in the 60’s, before his “Peanuts” fame. “ We found this film sitting in the attic. So we brought it down and restored it. Did it in high definition, fixed it up.” A true find indeed! The two decided to build a film around this never before seen footage. When I asked Andrew about this task, taking this jazz legend and making a documentary, how do you get the impact of the influence and muse he brought to life? Andrew recalled a very good analogy that hit home. He said “Years ago I had to go do a special on the Eiffel Tower. I spent all this time walking around the Eiffel Tower, how can you shoot it so it looks good? I figured it out, you got to inside, you got to go up to the top and you have to shoot the shadow of the Eiffel Tower as it sweeps over the buildings. That's the only way to get the sense of proportion and size. That's the approach we took with this, we are looking at the shadow that Vince cast over musicians and family comedians and culture.”
A very difficult, but important movie is called The Desperate by Ben Hur Sepehr. Ben Hur says that “It is about forgiveness, its about tolerance, doing the right thing at the wrong time under very unfavorable circumstances. It’s a lesson for all of us, it’s a lesson for future generations” Based on a true story, the 33 minute movie is about “a fearsome Nazi general is forced to plead with a condemned Jewish doctor to save his dying only son.” Making the film festival circuit and gaining buzz along the way, this gripping story has already garnered plenty of notoriety; having received 17 official selections and 13 awards. Ben Hur also mentioned that some influential people have taken noticed and “we are being approached by a big company with some international stars to do it as a feature film, so I'm working now on a screenplay.” As far as he is concerned, it isn’t about the awards or money, he was simply compelled to share this doctor’s story. Which had been brought to his attention almost 40 years earlier when his was in film school in Sweden. The story of this man stuck with him through all the years. He felt the time had come to make the film and dropped everything so he could focus entirely on the film. His hard work seems to have paid off, with main stream just around the corner it would appear he will be able to get his message out to movie goers everywhere. “I am not going to change the world. Even if i could make a little dent, just tiny little dent to plant the seed in someone’s mind, especially the kids. Then you have done your job. I am not going to be able to change what is going on, but if I could help a little bit. As a story teller, as an artist, as a film maker. That's what I'm here to do”
One film that was screened, but was playing ‘out of competition’ was full length feature movie The Green Guys written, directed and edited by Cole Mueller. Described as “a taunt, tense thriller about four brash young investment hotshots living at the bleeding edge of their profession and on the knife edge of the law” this crime drama delivers just that; four guys that are consumed with greed and the pursuit for more investors to dupe. Although this movie is touted as a work in progress, the cinematography is superb and the premise is spot on. Save for some of the sound and some editing, the movie has the look and feel of a big budget crime thriller along the lines of Scorsese or Tarantino. The potential is there, I would not be surprised to find “Green Guys” on movie marquees everywhere. Taking inspiration from old school gangster movies, Cole said “I wanted to do something that kind of felt like the rat pack a little bit, these classy 30-something (men) that are criminals too, and that are kind of likable. Even though they are stealing money and they have their own little syndicate.” They way the movie is styled the feeling comes across the screen, you can not help but be reminded of the classic poise and attitude of Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr., and Lawford. I know I will be on the look out when “Green Guys” is completed and ready to premiere. To find out how you can see this fantastic film just visit their website for updates and information.
The TVIFF wouldn’t have the I without submissions from other countries, such as Swedish film "Alice Babs Swings it" by Lasse Zachrisson. I sat down with Lasse to talk about his film, which is a documentary on jazz singer Alice Babs. Alice is the number one jazz export from the Netherlands. Lasse says “It’s a Cinderella story, her whole story has never been told before. Alice Babs was always a very big star in Sweden, everyone in the the Netherlands knows who Alice Babs is.” Lasse’s passion comes across when speaking abut Alice Babs and his documentary, the sheer excitement about her life, and impact on music moves him to tell her story and I was glad I was able to see it. “Alice Babs Swings it” is 80 minutes long and is compiled of interviews, original performance footage, and stills. The story is told through the actual music of Alice Babs, which speaks volumes in and of itself.
Another import was Forfeit of Grace Which is a crime film that was shot out in the desert. I spoke with these talented filmmakers during the festival about their upcoming projects. Australian native Kana Senes who directed, wrote, edited and produced the film, and cinematographer JMR Luna, who is from Spain, spoke about the film submission to TVIFF, but also about the next movie they have wrapped.
“We got 'Forfeit of Grace' and it is the last film that we all made together screening here, that's why we are here. A Relative Stranger is our next one, so it’s great to be able to go from one film, hopefully jump onto another keep the festival band wagon going.” Even though Kana is from Australia he says that he has always loved American Westerns. “It’s the idea of being so far away from America, being raised on classic Hollywood films, spaghetti western. I have always loved them, I’ve loved the fact that they are so stylistic.” Even though “A Relative Stranger” is a western, it is a family drama first. “It’s more of a family drama, that happens to be set in the west. Sort of veer away from this classic shoot 'em up, over romanticized notion of the west. Bring it back, ground it, make more of a country noir. Real feeling of what life was like back in 1862.” They have already submitted both films to Sundance, as well as other film festivals.
The showcase of films this year was extraordinarily good and I thoroughly enjoyed every film I saw. With so many talented and enthusiastic film makers out there, you would be hard pressed to find something that didn’t speak to you. Be it a light hearted comedy, an informative documentary, or a gritty crime drama; there is no doubt that there is something for everyone. Plans are already underway for the 17th annual Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival! I can’t wait to see what great talent will turn out next year.