California Independent Film Festival branches out
By Lou Fancher
Sound is the star at the 17th Annual California Independent Film Festival.
Running this year Sept. 11-14 at three locations -- Moraga's New Rheem Theatre, the Orinda Theatre in Orinda and debuting at San Francisco's Castro Theatre -- the fast-growing festival aims to make big noise.
Adding bang to the usual world premieres, festival-circuit faves, star-laden guest appearances, sister-city Sapporo Film Festival shorts, Iron Filmmaker contest and local restaurants, breweries and wineries providing food and libations for various parties, the debut of an Iron Composer Contest signals the importance of original scores in film.
Recall the ominous, spine-chilling "dum, dum, dum, dum" of "Jaws" ... listen to "Where Do I Begin?" and weep for the 1970 film "Love Story," or shut your eyes and find joy in the epic soundtrack of Prince's "Purple Rain." Such music is often an integral part of a film.
Aspiring and experienced composers received copies of the short film "Virus" -- with the original score removed -- and then composed their own scores for it. Entries were due Aug. 29, and five judges from the film, TV and scoring industries selected five finalists (to be announced Saturday, Sept. 6). The top five, plus the original film, will be screened at the Rheem Theatre on Sept. 14. The top three composers receive prizes including all access passes to the festival, cash awards and a free flight to San Francisco for any first-place, out-of-town winner.
Looking at the rest of CAIFF's lineup, Dustin Hoffman works his magic in "Kramer vs. Kramer," the 1979 film also starring Meryl Streep. Revolving around a couple going through a divorce and featuring actor Justin Henry as their son Billy, Henry will attend the Sept. 13 screening in Orinda.
Other feature films include "Starring Adam West," a look at the actor who played Batman in the 1960s TV series; "Sixteen Candles," with Henry making another appearance as Molly Ringwald's little brother; and less-known, but still-worthy "True Son," about 22-year-old Stanford grad Michael Tubbs during his campaign for a seat on the Stockton City Council; and "Putzel," closing night's lox-and-bagel dramedy about finding true love.
Shorts are also a centerpiece. "Relationships Shorts Program A" is all about being a gentleman and the take away from life's platonic to passionate seductions. "Comedy Shorts Program D" is all about being a lady and taking cover when allurements lurk.
"Documentary Shorts Program A" presents two films about strength amid fear-filled circumstances. "A Song For Naija" has Nigerian hip-hop artists countering their country's turbulence and violence through music, technology and social media. "Thrown For a Loss," based on the true story of the 1963 Pittsburg Mallards' glorious Pop Warner National Championship victory, explores shadows cast by the team's highly-anticipated presidential meet-and-greet that turned into attendance at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. Filmmaker John Chavez grew up in Richmond and will attend the screening at the Orinda Theatre at 1 p.m. on Sept. 14. Coaches and players from the 1963 team have been invited to attend the screening.
Notably, environmental and health issues get a big push this year. The intensity of environmental activist Pauline Matt's quietly fervent anti-fracking "We Are the Land." The 14-minute documentary from Andrew Heskett and Lauren Lindberg was filmed on the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana and plays in the Bay Area Shorts Showcase at Rheem Theatre on Sept. 12.
And two Lamorinda filmmakers add heft and homegrown talent to CAIFF. California Brain Tumor Association founder Ellie Marks' "Mobilize," unrolls the landscape she traveled with her late husband Alan, a realtor with Alain Pinel in Orinda. Alan was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his doctors attributed it to heavy cell phone use. The documentary, about the health ramifications of using mobile devices, will be followed by a panel discussion with medical professionals and experts in the field on Sept. 12.
There is also Laura Cryan Zellmer's "Breathe in Life" at the Rheem on Sept. 13. Listening to Zellmer's measured tones as she reads the letter she has written to her 6-year-old son, or hearing the 39-year-old Cystic Fibrosis survivor wretchedly coughing, her body bent nearly in half ... there may be no film score more dramatic than her courageous, life-affirming voice.