A Trio of Film Festivals Sprouts in Greater Los Angeles: Inaugural Events Held in Hollywood, San Pedro and Pacific Palisades

By Sarah Jo Marks

From Ken Mandel's 'America's Deadliest Storm: Galveston Island.'

Springtime in Los Angeles...and what was blooming was film festivals. International Documentary managed to attend several of these first-year fests that were truly springing up everywhere, each with its own mission statement, locale and ample offering of documentaries.

First stop: The historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for an Earth Day kickoff of the first annual Artivist Film Festival (www.artivistfilmfestival.org). True to its mission—"merging art and activism for global consciousness"—the fest touted thoughtful forums, awards for environmental awareness, organic food, an art show and, of course, as many activist and social issue films as you could consume. The five days of screenings were creatively themed: environmental preservation, animal awareness, international human rights, children's advocacy and, lastly, art, activism and spirituality. The inaugural Artivist Film Festival managed to snag many hot films, including Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski's Born into Brothels and Marc Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation, which screened as the closing night film. 

The vibe there was fantastic, and everyone seemed to enjoy the organic vegan cuisine and checked out filmmaker Josh Tickell's bio diesel Veggie Car (as featured in his short doc The Veggie Van Voyage) parked prominently in the courtyard. 

As usual with first-year fests, organizational snafus, unannounced schedule changes and technical difficulties made traversing the festival mildly frustrating.  However, the mission statement and films truly spoke for themselves. And, if you found yourself sitting in the wrong theater, you were bound to see something equally as great as what you thought you were supposed to be seeing. 

The next weekend it was off to San Pedro for the first annual Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival (www.laharborfilmfest.com), of which IDA was a co-sponsor, with the Catalina Island Conservancy, of the DocuDay section of the festival. About 45 minutes south of downtown LA, San Pedro is one of the largest shipping ports in the world. The city's Warner Grand Theatre and the Los Angeles Maritime Museum hosted the screenings of this first-year fest from April 30 through May 2. "To create a cinematic bridge between the people of the region and the people of the world" is LAHIFF's slogan, and the festival screened half a dozen docs—all centered around maritime themes such as fishing, the ocean and life on coastline communities. Stephanie Mardesich, the festival's director and co-founder, with Jack Baric, was on hand to introduce the films and everyone to one another, including former IDA Executive Director Betsy McLane, LAHIFF's advisor.

Gotham Fish Tales (Robert Maas, dir./wtr.), American's Deadliest Storm: Galveston Island (Ken Mandel, dir./wtr.) and the moving and brutal Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story (Peter Hegedus, prod./dir.) had the audiences in their grasp, prompting lively discussions over free bagels and coffee in the beautiful art deco lobby of the classic movie palace. According to Mardesich, she and the festival staff are planning a bigger press push for next year, with more community involvement and possibly a new submission process.

The second weekend in May, International Documentary headed back up the coast to Pacific Palisades, for the first annual Pacific Palisades Film Festival (www.friendsoffilm.com). The fest played a remarkable slate of documentaries including Standing on My Sisters' Shoulders (Laura J. Lipson, prod./dir.; Joan Sadoff and Dr. Robert Sadoff, prods.), Farther Than the Eye Can See (Michael Brown, prod./dir.) and Horns and Halos (Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, dirs.; David Beilinson, co-prod.).  Festival Director Bob Sharka seemed pleased with the first-time achievement and said that the festival is seeking funding for next year and has plans for open-air screenings this summer.

Having attended regional festivals in both Los Angeles and in many other cities, I can attest to the challenge of launching and mounting a festival in a major city with myriad cultural offerings. Even with community support, it is increasingly difficult to create buzz and generate good attendance at events and screenings in LA. But go to the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee or the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and screenings are sold out! In Los Angeles, it seems, there are too many creative people wanting to start things and not enough people to attend. 

So, support your local regional festival! After all, you can generally get in easily, see thought-provoking documentaries and engage in discussions with strangers over free wine, cheese, bagels, coffee and nuts, depending on the time of day. Plus, these screenings are extremely affordable (tickets at the Pacific Palisades Festival were only $5), and you'll often stumble upon a brilliant film right in your back yard, that you can't see anywhere else.


Sarah Jo Marks is currently producing two documentary projects. She can be reached at sarahjomarks@hotmail.com.