The thought of starting a new film fest from scratch is certainly daunting, but Paul Parietti is giving it a shot. The first iteration of his Frequency Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, March 21, and runs on and off through April 6. And despite its rookie status, Parietti is programming the sorts of films that already make Frequency one of the most interesting festivals in town.
I meet Parietti on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, mere feet from the sand. He sports a Johnny Cash cap and a set of muttonchops, looking more like an alt-country band's bassist than a one-man film fest. As we walk toward Ortega's, a Mexican restaurant up the street, he points out the Ocean Beach Playhouse, tucked between a body-piercing shop and a shell store; flyers for various films are plastered on the door. This is where the Frequency films will be shown.
Make no mistake: Frequency is all Parietti. He serves as artistic director, managing director and head of programming and marketing. It's a lot to take on. Once we arrive at the restaurant and order matching plates of carnitas tacos, Parietti—who's cheerful, enthusiastic and effusive—says that wearing so many hats means he has control over pretty much everything.
"The reason I'm doing this is because I like film," he says. "And this way, I can bring in the films that I want. Basically, the only criteria I have for the film festival is that the films have to be 70 minutes or longer. Other than that, it's a free-for-all. I've got experimental films, silent films, documentaries, international films and narrative films."
There is another criteria, actually: Each film has to be a San Diego premiere. The inaugural lineup goes beyond that, though. Included are two North American premieres, six West Coast premieres and three California premieres. More than 10 countries are represented. It's a festival that's literally all over the map, a collection that's diverse and intriguing.
"I didn't want to be confined and restricted to something," Parietti says. "I like all kinds of films. I'm extremely open-minded, and I didn't want to be pigeonholed. I wanted to be fully open."
One of the best aspects of Parietti's selections is that, more often than not, they feel like movies that you'd only see at a film festival. For example, the opening-night picture The Baron is a visually intoxicating, black-and-white Portuguese horror film. He's also screening Andrew Bird: Fever Year, a documentary about the musician's tour that will be screened only during Frequency. There are American indie comedies like Cinema Six, Malaysian crime thrillers like Songlap and two films from the Netherlands, including a doc about weed. There's even a Norwegian documentary about the current state of exorcism. Seriously, it's a very cool selection.
Lest you think Frequency is merely the product of a film fan catering to his own tastes, it's worth noting that Parietti isn't a novice in the festival game. For the past three years, since he and his wife moved to San Diego from San Francisco, he's worked as a curatorial assistant at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival (SDJFF), for which he watches and catalogues thousands of films.
"I also get to do research, which I love," he says. "That's my thing, trying to find films that are a little off from what we're actually doing. I'm always on film-festival sites. There's just so much film out there. I mean, it's endless."
The experience at the SDJFF is what pushed Parietti to found Frequency, and it taught him to be diverse in his selections, not just in terms of origin or genre, but also aesthetics.
"Something that I might freak out about, somebody else might not," he says. "I always say that for every 10 people who love a film, there are 10 people who don't. You want to have different genres and different feelings in a film festival, to make it exciting. And, yes, it is my vision, but I want other people to see it and enjoy it. I want it to be eclectic."
So, why call it Frequency?
Parietti says that coming up with the name was one of the toughest tasks, because so many good ones have been taken.
"I put some of the strangest combinations into Google, and somebody would already have it. I liked the way Frequency flowed, and because of the way we're screening the films, there's a frequency to it and there's sort of a frequency to how it all feels. There was a Frequency music festival, but there was no Frequency Film Festival. Thus, the name was born."
Already, the name has proved prescient: Parietti is setting up a second Frequency fest, with an entirely different slate of films, for May and June.
This isn't a project Parietti just pulled out of his trucker hat. He drew up a business plan in December 2011 and has worked with small business organizations to make it all come together. Still, he's doing Frequency pretty much on his own, and he estimates that he's watched more than 500 films while putting together the festival. It's been a ton of work, but Parietti says he's very happy with the initial offering, and he's also thrilled to be bringing film back to Ocean Beach, where he lives with his wife and daughter, a neighborhood that hasn't had its own movie theater in years.
"I live in this neighborhood," he says. "I love it here, and I want to bring something back to my community."
One member of that community, Parietti's wife, Spana Iyer, had to deal with the enormous amount of energy it takes to pull off something like this. But Parietti says she's on board all the way.
"She loves it," he says. "She knows me, and she knows this is a passion. She is extremely supportive and it's been fantastic. Because it takes a lot of time. It takes up a lot of time."