It’s always dicey navigating the trip between Los Angeles and San Diego during afternoon drive-time, but Waze kept me on course toward the inaugural La Costa Film Festival at the famous once-exclusive playground for mobsters and the Hollywood Rat Pack. Lorimar co-founder Merv Adelson, one-time husband of Barbara Walters, built the Carlsbad golf course in 1965 with mafiosi Moe Dalitz, Allard Roen and Irwin Molasky, followed by the Rancho La Costa Inn. Later sold to Japanese owners who supervised the once-tony resort’s decline, the La Costa Resort & Spa is now a family-friendly Omni spa sprawling over 450 acres of winding concrete paths and multiple bungalows and pools, designed more for golf carts and cars than walking.
The first film festival (October 24 to 27) was pitched to North County locals and for its first go-round, included not only three days of international narrative and documentary features and shorts but a sports film jury competition, keyed to the resort’s golf focus. Josh Greenbaum’s opening night movie “The Short Game,” a slickly-shot documentary portrait of pint-sized golfers and their parents in the intense World Championships of Junior Golf, won Best Sports Feature, and “SLOMO” took home best short. The Goldwyn Co. will release the film in 2014.
The selection from festival founders, Mike and Ruby Callihan and Festival Producer and Head Programmer Nancy Collet screened at Carlsbad’s Ruby G. Schulman Theater at the Carlsbad Dove Library and the luxurious Cinepolis Theaters, featuring in-theater dining and reclining leather seats and a well-stocked bar.
Also in the sports competition was Lucy Walker’s fest hit “The Crash Reel,” about snowboarder Kevin Pearce and the 2010 traumatic brain injury that prevented him from competing in the Olympics; “Maidentrip,” which follows Laura Dekker, the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone; “McConkey,” which focuses on Shane McConkey, the pioneer of free-skiing and ski-base jumping; and “North of the Sun,” about two young surfers who seek to catch the perfect wave in a remote, arctic island in Northern Norway.
I finally caught up with Steven Bernstein’s true breast cancer saga “Decoding Annie Parker,” starring Helen Hunt as famed geneticist Mary-Claire King, who painstakingly tracked down the BRCA-1 genetic marker for breast cancer, and Samantha Morton in the title role of a woman who is convinced that breast cancer runs in families, which won her Best Actress at the recent Seattle International Film Festival. “Every 12 minutes someone dies of breast cancer,” says King in the movie. Parker has so far survived three rounds fighting cancer, and finally met Dr. King at the Seattle Film Festival. “They cried and I cried,” says Bernstein.
Bernstein left his career as a Hollywood cinematographer (“White Chicks,” “Monster,” “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Scary Movie 2”) and devoted seven years to financing and shooting and promoting the film, losing his house and giving up his back end in the process. He raised funding off his script and set a start date before casting the movie. His passion project has played well on the international festival circuit, where Bernstein has raised $3 million for breast cancer charities. (Unfortunately he lost his sister to cancer a few weeks ago.) “I’ve logged 90,000 miles and 31 cities,” he says. “Important research still needs to be done.”
Bernstein is negotiating with a North American distributor for a 2014 release. Next up, he’s written and financed “Dominion,” about the last West Village days of poet Dylan Thomas, as he drinks himself to death and explores memories of his past life. It will be selling territories at the AFM; Bernstein is casting and hopes to start filming in February.
Shorts in competition also included “The Red Pill,” “Crooked Lines,” and “Magnesium.” The Fest closed with an open air gala for “At Middleton,” starring local resident Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga, and Taissa Farmiga in the story of two wildly different parents who meet while taking their kids on a college tour.
La Costa also screened 1989’s “Field of Dreams” outdoors, and booked some fest circuit hits: “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors,” winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival; French dramedy “Just a Sigh,” which premiered at Tribeca; and Belgian bluegrass drama “Broken Circle Breakdown,” which won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as Best Actress and Best Screenplay awards at Tribeca; it’s the Oscar submission from Belgium.
The Documentary Showcase included an intimate portrait of Alzheimer’s, “The Genius of Marian,” which premiered at Tribeca; “Walking the Camino,” about walking the ancient 500-mile pilgrimage across Northern Spain known as “The Camino de Santiago”; and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW, “William and the Windmill,” which follows a young Malawian who rescued his family from famine by building a power-generating windmill from scrap parts.
Two films screened as part of the festival’s Surf Spotlight: “Isolated” and “H2indo.” The festival’s family film will be “Khumba,” an animated comedy from South Africa, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, featuring the voices of Steve Buscemi and Laurence Fishburne.
The jury this year included: former Chargers NFL kicker John Carney; former Laker and current CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carlsbad, Brad Holland; actor William Mapother (“Another Earth,” “Lost”), Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock (“Maya Lin: A Strong Vision,” “Anita”); and Sports Director of San Diego’s KUSI-TV, Paul Rudy.