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Launching A Film Festival—In Style

Launching A Film Festival—In Style

          It takes a lot
of work to run, let alone launch, a film festival, but this past weekend the Coronado
Island Film Festival
made its debut and scored a remarkable home run. I was
asked to be honorary jury chair, but my actual role was host/figurehead and
while I worked hard I had a great time, as did my wife. There is a lot of
hometown pride in this community, just across the bay from San Diego, and with good
reason. It’s an idyllic place with lovely weather and a lot of history. The
locals sponsored events, volunteered, and turned out for screenings and panels
in large numbers. You could feel the enthusiasm in the air.

         Film buffs may
know Coronado best as the location of two notable movies: Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot and Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man. On Sunday afternoon I
hosted a screening of The Stunt Man
at the island’s beautifully refurbished art deco Village Theater with
writer-director Richard Rush, leading man Steve Railsback, and stuntman/actor
Chuck Bail, all of whom had great stories to tell. Then late Monday afternoon
Jack Lemmon’s son Chris and I introduced a showing of Some Like it Hot outdoors on the beach in front of the historic Del
Coronado Hotel
where the movie was shot. What a treat!

         In between,
the festival spotlighted 85 short subjects, feature films, and documentaries,
programmed by savvy producer and co-executive director Andy Friedenberg, who
for 32 years has run the thriving San Diego Cinema Society. The two
women who were the driving force of this endeavor, President and CEO Mary D.
Sikes and the indefatigable Founder and Executive Director Doug St. Denis,
couldn’t have chosen a better person to help them work with studios, distributors,
and filmmakers. In fact, every filmmaker I spoke to was delighted with the
attendance and feedback at their screenings.

         For opening
night, the Walt Disney Company offered a perfect selection: The Finest Hours, a true-life Coast
Guard rescue story that opens in theaters on January 29. Coronado has a major
military presence with a U.S. Naval Base, and the local Coast Guard Sector provided a Color Guard for the screening,
which couldn’t have gone better. A full house stayed put for a q&a I
conducted afterwards with director Craig Gillespie and producer James Whitaker.

           Sunday
morning, DreamWorks Animation enabled the festival to present a sneak preview of
Kung Fu Panda 3 preceded by a sweet video greeting from its star, Jack Black.

         And that’s
just the beginning. Saturday morning I led a “Meet the Critics” panel featuring
my esteemed colleague Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal and three well-known San Diego reviewers:
Anders Wright of the San Diego
Union-Tribune
, Josh Board of Fox Channel 5 and KOGO-AM, and Diana Saenger,
founder of the San Diego Film Critics Society. We were delighted with the
turnout and the intelligent questions that were posed to us.

         Later that
day, I chaired an animation panel that featured Jonas Rivera, a Pixar veteran
who started out by sweeping the office floors and is now the Oscar-nominated
producer of Inside Out, and
DreamWorks Animation director Tim Johnson and producer Suzanne Buirgy, whose
most recent film is Home (which was
screened on Sunday morning). These good people brought PowerPoint presentations
to explain how they do what they do, and why it takes so long to craft a really
good animated feature. I wish I had a video of this conversation I could share
with you all; it was that good. (I’d never met Tim Johnson before but I’ve
enjoyed his work for years; he directed Over
the Hedge
and the underrated Sinbad:
Legend of the Seven Seas.
As for Jonas, he’s not only a lovely guy but has
a strong local connection: he got married on Coronado Island!)

         The charming
Chris Lemmon treated festivalgoers to his one-man show A Twist of Lemmon, in which he channels his famous father. Later
this spring he’ll be performing the show on the West End in London and is
aiming of off-Broadway after that. It’s a candid valentine to an actor
we all admired and loved.

         Another famous
family was well represented as Rory Flynn, accompanied by her son Sean,
reminisced about her famous father Errol and introduced a screening of the 1941
movie Dive Bomber, which was filmed
at the Coronado Island Naval Base.

         Award-winning
producer Laurens Grant was honored with screenings of her documentaries Freedom Riders, Jesse Owens, and the
latest, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the
Revolution,
which tied into Monday’s commemoration of Martin Luther King,
Jr. Day. A moving celebration of music and words took place in the elegant
Edwardian music room at the former mansion-home of sugar magnate John
Spreckels, now the Glorietta Bay Inn. (As it turns out, the gracious general
manager of that hotel, Claudia Ludlow, can trace
her African-American family’s residence on the island to the year 1919.)

         Andre Zotoff,
general manager of the Hotel Del Coronado, not only stepped up to bat as the
festival’s Presenting Sponsor and generously provided accommodations but
appeared in a student-made film called Daydream
Hotel
, which is the first movie to be shot on the property in decades. Anyone
who didn’t know that he rides a motorcycle around the island is certainly now
aware: his image appeared in the official Festival trailer that preceded every
screening.

         I’m sorry I
don’t have time to mention every film and guest who made this weekend
so special and enjoyable, but I do want to cheer on Mary Sikes, Doug St. Denis,
and Andy Friedenberg and hope they will continue to stage this event for many
years to come. They’re certainly off to a great start.

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