Starting Sept. 17, the San Diego Film Festival will kick off its second year under the direction of the engaged-to-be-married team of Robin Laatz and Karl Kozack.
As a three-year resident of San Diego, transplanted from Pittsburgh, Laatz claims that because of its non-exclusivity, the festival is the only one of its kind locally.
"San Diego has lots of good film festivals-Latino, gay, Asian... yet there wasn't a non-exclusive film festival," said Laatz, who is the festival's executive director while Kozack acts as programming director. "We are one of the few festivals in the country that focuses on acting. We were looking for films with strong performances. Most of the industry in San Diego is actors, who will be attending the panels in the festival."
The festival will open with a VIP opening night party featuring theworld premiere of I Am David by Paul Feig, who is well known among the freaks and geeks crowd. From there, the competitive five-day event will include more than 70 international narrative, documentary and short films in a pluckier program than last year.
"This year we got a lot of studios coming to us," said Laatz. "But we brought in more independent filmmakers, including six features done and shot by San Diego filmmakers."
One of those local filmmakers is Robin Mackenzie, writer and producer of Mothers and Daughters, which is based on her first play, Chocolate Fairy. Directed by Sheri Hellard of Los Angeles, the 18-day shoot was done on a $600,000 budget. It stars both MacKenzie and her real-life daughter, Heidi Marnhout, along with Sally Kirkland as a hot-to-trot grandmother who doesn't want to give up her search for sex.
"It's a slightly stressful comedy about three generations of women who come together over the course of a day-and-a-half and solve major problems in their lives," said Mackenzie. She claims the film is not autobiographical, but adds that "my mother has told me she's going to sue."
San Diego resident De Veau Dunn similarly denies that his short film, Call Me Crazy-about a comic struggling to make it big while battling personal addictions-is autobiographical.
"It's just based on voices I heard," said the debut writer-director, who got his acting break with the recurring role of Akeem the Black Guy on The Ben Stiller Show.
Saturday's screening of Call Me Crazy- part of the Celluloid San Diego Short Series- comes on the crest of success for one of the film's comedians, Dat Phan, who recently won NBC's Last Comic Standing.
"I'm so happy for Dat Phan, he's like a brother to me," said Dunn. "He helped me with my comedy and I helped him with his acting."
But can a film about addictions be funny? Dunn knows people are laughing when they see it, but at what, he isn't sure.
"I wrote it seriously as a dramedy, but during the test screening people were laughing hard. The laughs are uncomfortable," he said. "Claude Shires, who plays the lead character, Alex, is a supermodel and a train wreck wrapped all into one."
Counted among the veterans of the festival is San Diego filmmaker John De Bello, a visionary who laid his post-Joycean apocalyptic vision for the modern narrative when he made his Attack of the Killer Tomatoes 25 years ago. De Bello and assorted guests will be at the festival to preview clips and extra footage that will be included in the upcoming 25th Anniversary DVD release of his infamous b-movie.
"We're really looking forward to it," said De Bello. "We always noticed that there were two types of groups who like the film: college students and 8-year-olds. I don't know what that says about college students."
Other acts of interest at the festival include Prey for Rock and Roll, directed by Alex Steyermak and featuring a very impressive Gina Gershon, along with others, in fictional rock band Clam Dandy. Andrew Overtoom's My Life with Morrissey has garnered attention, though it lacks any Morrissey tunes and, really, any good performances. Peter Hedges' well-written and acted Pieces of April should be much better, even if the camera work is suspect.
If you are looking for films as good as their titles, The Five Stages of Beer, Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth, Stuey and the Pauley Shore-directed You'll Never Wiez in This Town Again might float your boat.
There will be documentaries on Scrabble, animal rights, the disabled, Burning Man and a moving recognition of the contribution Navajos made to the victory in the Pacific during World War II. Stacy Keach will also get a long overdue nod when he appears to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.
And finally, parties will be thrown, of course, many with the goals of networking, awarding gifted filmmakers and celebrating homicidal fruit.