"Game" and "Signals" Take Top Honors At Inaugural San
Diego World Film Festival
by Michael Wechsler and Richard Keefe
The first San Diego World Film Festival wrapped on June 11th after ten
days of screening over 80 independent, studio and foreign films. As
befitted a festival with an Honorary Advisory Board that included both
independent director John Sayles and Sony Pictures CEO John Calley, the
Festival was an eclectic blend of indie films and special advance
screenings of studio product (such as "The Truman Show"). According to
Festival Director Jo Moulton, "We wanted to come up with a festival
format that was unique, that recognized talent of all types and brought
them together, without distinguishing between the A and B list. At our
awards gala, we had one table with student directors, low-budget feature
directors and the legendary John Frankenheimer all sitting together."
Winning the Audience Award for Best Independent Feature was Chris ver
Wiel's lyrical life/death allegory, "The Waiting Game." Chris Eyre's
"Smoke Signals" took top jury honors, receiving awards for Best Actor,
Screenplay, Director and American Independent Feature. Tony Gatlif's
"Gadjo Dilo" won for Best Foreign Film while a special jury award was
given to Phillipe De Broca's "En Garde" as well as Andres Heinz's
"Origin of the Species." Corky Quackenbush's "Reinfather" won for Best
Short while Rick Wilkinson's "A Short Wait Between Trains" and Patrick
Yu's "A Spider's Thread" tied for Best Student Film. Val Keller's
"Winged" won the audience award for Best Student Film while David
Deblinger's "The Callback" won the audience award for best short.
World premieres in the feature category included "Me and Will" by
Sherrie Rose and Melissa Behr, "Adverse Possession" by Richard Martin,
"Slaves of Hollywood" by Michael Wechsler and Terry Keefe, "Coyote" by
Elliot and Shane Liem Jacobson and "Stricken" by Paul Chilsen, amongst
others. San Diego premieres included Jerome Courshon's "God, Sex and
Apple Pie", Mark Schiffer's festival fave "Strong Island Boys", Karl
Kozak's "To Hell with Love" and Valerie Red-Horse's "Naturally Native."
Some notable short films that attracted festival buzz included Greg
Seton's "Nonfat", Aaron Feldman and Oritte Bendory's "An Incident Near
Falaise", David Gambino and Lori Rosene's "Shooters", and Jodi Lane's
"Big Bucks for Buddha".
Festival highlights included the lifetime achievement awards given to
actor Martin Landau and director John Frankenheimer; a boating regatta
for the filmmakers; a special screening of "The Manchurian Candidate"
followed by a Q & A with director Frankenheimer; a talk about indie
publicity with legendary film producer Samuel Z. Arkoff ("I Was A
Teenage Werewolf," "Blacula") and a discussion on film editing with
Peter Hones (editor of "LA Confidential").
For all it's diverse programming and events, the festival wasn't without
it's problems and shortcomings. The complete absence of local press
coverage and the lack of support in promotions was a disappointment to
indie filmmakers who had to hawk their movies on the street to fill up
the theaters. On a less important, but certainly significant note, the
three gala parties touted at $100-$200/person had cash bars. To add
insult to injury, there were barely any mixers for the filmmakers which
is almost unbelievable in the Gaslamp district known for it's hip bars,
restaurants and dance clubs.
And last but not least, the "equality factor". Although this was
supposed to be a festival where everyone was on equal footing, that
certainly didn't seem to be the case when CNN, ET and Access Hollywood
camera's were invited to the glitzier, star-driven screenings while
smaller indie fare was left out in the cold.
The above rantings notwithstanding, the festival still came off quite
impressively for it's Freshman year and seems like it's here to stay.
Once the festival addresses it's "growing pains" it could become a
serious indie alternative to Los Angeles' growing festival monopoly.
[Michael Wechsler and Terry Keefe are the filmmakers behind "Slaves of
Hollywood", which screened at the festival.]