Morgan M. Hurley | Downtown Editor
The Gaslamp Quarter has turned into one of two “festival villages” of the 12th annual San Diego Film Festival this week, acting as a venue for premiere and independent films, red carpets, film panels, and celebratory after parties during the five-day festival, which runs through Sunday, Oct. 6.
Arclight Cinema in La Jolla’s University Town Center is the center of the second festival village, creating a balance in the screening of over 100 films in five different categories. Organizers said over 1,200 films were submitted for consideration to this year’s festival, and were eventually pared down to 108 for inclusion, with 65 of those being short films.
It was just last year that the festival’s reigns were taken over by Chairman Dale Streck, President Kevin Leap, and vice presidents Tonya Mantooth and Patti Judd, a team with filmmaking and marketing savvy that has infused both renewed life and breadth into the annual event.
“The original founders were looking for someone or a group to take over the nonprofit foundation and to grow the festival into what its potential was,” Strack said. “What we discovered was that a film festival, done right, can bring a tremendous amount of economic advantage to the city that hosts it.”
Strack said they looked at Tribeca, Sundance in Salt Lake City and festivals in Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
“They all were much larger than what we had here and yet our city is equally as big as the infrastructure Toronto has,” Streck said. “It showed us that the infrastructure San Diego has could warrant a large film festival. We … saw that if we build it, it could bring $70 or $80 million dollars of benefits both tax wise and business wise to San Diego.”
As a result, Streck said festival organizers have a five-year goal to expand the event to ten days, add more festival villages around the county, and bring attendance up to 100,000.
“San Diego has the footprint for that to happen,” he said.
This year’s festival launched on Wednesday Oct 2 with the screening of “12 Years as a Slave” to a packed house at Reading Cinemas on Fifth Avenue. The film earned rave reviews at its Toronto Film Festival premiere and is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped away from his wife and children in upstate New York before emancipation and sold to slave owners in the South for over a decade, when his true identify was finally revealed and he was set free.
After the film, producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner along with screenwriter John Ridley took questions from Festival Host and Honorary Jury President Jeffrey Lyons and the audience. In response to one viewer who asked why films like this still need to be made, Ridley, who called himself a “black man in 2013” said the film and its topic of slavery was “part of our history” and “important,” adding that he wants his own children to be informed. Immediately following was an after party at Bang Bang, a new restaurant and lounge located on Market Street Downtown.
Thursday, Oct 3, writer and director Judd Apatow was honored with the festival’s “Visionary Filmmaker Award” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
“That’s the thing about film that I find so impactful,” said Tonya Mantooth, vice present of San Diego Film Festival. “It really spans … illness … life change … catastrophic situation, it sort of allows you to touch on all of those things … that is the power of film.”
One of the many films in the 2013 lineup that addresses life-changing experiences is “Brave Miss World,” a film by Cecilia Peck, the daughter of legendary film star and San Diego native, Gregory Peck. “Brave Miss World” tells the true story of Israeli beauty queen Linor Arbargil, who was kidnapped, stabbed and raped just months prior to being crowned Miss World in 1998. A decade later she finally addressed her demons and is now a voice for others. The film screens Sunday, Oct. 6 and Peck will be present for a question-and-answer period afterwards.
There are even a few films of direct relevance to San Diego this year. One is “Fading West,” a documentary about local band Switchfoot, which chronicles the band’s transformation from freewheeling surfers and friends to band mates and then family men. “Fading West” screens Saturday, Oct. 5 at 4:30 p.m. at Reading Cinema.
Another film with San Diego ties is “Breaking Through,” about openly LGBT elected officials across the country and the impact that being out through that political process has had on their lives. Interim Mayor Todd Gloria and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis are both profiled in the feature-length documentary and will be present for the screening.
Other notables are “August: Osage County” based on a play of the same name and has an all star cast including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts screens Friday, Oct. 4 at ArcLight Cinemas; “2 Jacks” a comedic adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy short story screens Friday, Oct 4 at Reading Cinema; “Running from Crazy,” a documentary exploring the personal journey of actor Mariel Hemingway screens Sunday, Oct. 6 in La Jolla and Hemingway will receive a Humanitarian Award from the San Diego Film Festival the night before during a presentation at the Joan Kroc Peace & Justic Institute at UC San Diego; and the West Coast premiere of The German Doctor, a foreign film about Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, showing Friday, Oct. 4 at ArcLight Cinemas.
The San Diego Film Festival runs through Oct. 6. VIP, Festival and Day passes are available, as well as tickets for individual films and special events. For tickets and more information visit, sdfilmfest.com.