I had the fantastic opportunity to experience the inaugural year of the Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF), held over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, January 15-18. Some of the festival’s venues included Village Theatre, Coronado Library, Coronado Performing Arts Center, Glorietta Bay Inn, Club Room and Boathouse, Coronado Island Marriott, Coronado High School Quad, Coronado Private Bank, and the Hotel Del Coronado.
I was not too sure what to expect as this was my first film festival and CIFF’s first year. Prior to the festival’s opening, I endlessly perused the festival program and found it to be highly organized, thorough, and informative. During the weekend I was told that this is largely thanks to the efforts of Kris Grant, CIFF’s Director of Development, PR, and Media Relations. This program ended up being a highly valuable resource and a kind of travel guide through the festival.
In four short days, CIFF offered four panels, five live performances, six parties, and eighty-five screenings which included narrative films, documentaries, and short films. Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA) students were also performing “Pop Up” movie scenes on Saturday on Orange Avenue. I kept wishing I could clone myself so I could make every screening, party, and panel but alas, there was only one of me and so I set off, armed only with my VIP press pass and festival program. Here are the highlights…
Day One – Friday, 1/15 My first event of the festival was attending the Opening Night Reception held in the elegant and spacious Crown Room in the Hotel Del Coronado. Guests were welcomed by a long and regal red carpet that ushered you into the well-appointed room so that you could have your photo taken like a real movie star at a big premiere. As I scanned the room, I quickly caught sight of Leonard Maltin, celebrated film critic, author, and CIFF’s Honorary President. Was that Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son) who just walked by? I was filled with excitement as I made my way through the crowd.
I finally located Mr. Maltin and spoke to him a few minutes about the festival. He told me that he and Andy Friedenberg, CIFF’s Executive Director/Producer, had a history of working together and that Friedenberg had recommended him to the CIFF board. He commented that before the festival, he and Friedenberg “had a sense that this community would and could support” the film festival and that the festivals he “likes the best are the ones where the community really turns out.” He noted that the crowd was filled with “enthusiastic people…who are ready to dive into this wonderful weekend.”
I also spoke with Coronado’s Steve and Elizabeth Wampler, whose documentary, Wampler’s Ascent, was going to be screened on Saturday. They looked like seasoned vets due to the fact that they had previously been to fifty-five film festivals, with their film winning thirty-five times. They both seemed thrilled by the reception and Steve noted, “I’m glad that I’m here in my hometown.”
I approached filmmaker Michael Winokur and his wife, Iana Simeonov. Their short film, Selling Rosario, was screening the next afternoon. Simeonov explained that they were “thrilled to be part of the inaugural festival” and Winokur said of his early impression of the festival, “So far, so swank…It looks like they’re off to a great start. We’re really impressed with the connections this festival has from Leonard Maltin to the jury.” Simeonov noted, ““It’s rare to be at a…young festival and be outnumbered by patrons and moviegoers as a filmmaker…The town has come out.”
Coronado’s city leaders were in attendance including Mayor Casey Tanaka and members of the City Council. It was clear from their presence during the reception and throughout the festival events that the City was in full support of the festival.
Next stop, the Village Theater for the world premiere of Disney’s The Finest Hours.
Prior to the start of the film I spoke with Capt. Jonathan Spaner, Sector Commander for United States Coast Guard San Diego. Captain Spaner felt honored to be in attendance as the presenter of the film and told me how important this rescue is to the U.S. Coast Guard because “the movie and the rescue are an important part of our legacy.” He further elaborated that, “It’s heroes like Bernie Weber and his crew that really embody the core values of our service.” For a review of the film, please see Marlee May and Nathan Chisholm’s review here.
Day Two – Saturday, 1/16 Saturday morning started with the Meet the Critics Panel at the Club Room and Boathouse at 10a.m. Following that I attended the Meet the Producers Panel at 12:30p.m. Please see my article regarding the fantastic panels here.
At 4p.m. I brought my family with me to the award-winning, Wampler’s Ascent. I had seen Steve numerous times on the island and had no idea about his incredible story of “climbing” El Capitan in Yosemite National Park inch by inch. The documentary was profound, thought-provoking, and at times, funny because of Steve’s humor. I was awed by both Steve and Elizabeth’s courage in capturing his journey so they could share it with the world. One of the audience members stated that the documentary was “an incredible testament of the human spirit. It made me feel like I have no excuse not to accomplish great things.”
Day Three – Sunday, 1/17 Day three started with the screening of Tani Cohen and C.C. Goldwater’s Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater. Prior to the festival I had a lovely interview with Ms. Cohen about her film and it was exciting to meet both her and Ms. Goldwater in person at the Meet the Producer’s Panel the day before. The documentary won Best Documentary Feature and was the Grand Prize winner of the festival. The film should be required viewing for any high school civics class because it offers an important overview of both the Democratic and Republican parties and shows the great changes that have occurred within the Republican party. To learn more about the film, please see my article here.
Saturday afternoon I saw the premiere of Daydream Hotel, directed by Coronado School of the Art’s (CoSA) Tony Perri and produced by CoSA’s production company, Surfs-Up Studios. The film stars talented San Diego actors as well as Coronado’s own Zoe Hunt and Emma Kidd in lead roles. Also starring as Mr. Sugarman is Andre Zotoff, Vice-President and General Manager of the Hotel Del Coronado as well as CIFF board member. I am also proud to say that my daughter, Paige, had a small role in the film too. The film is original and playful and the performances are not to be missed.
Day Four – Monday, 1/18 In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought it appropriate to see award-winning producer Laurens Grant’s powerful documentary, Freedom Riders. The film tells the important story of the Freedom Riders, a group of brave individuals who challenged the South’s Jim Crow laws during 1961. At times the film is very disturbing as we see every day Americans putting their lives on the line in pursuit of overcoming segregation and standing up for what is right. Much like Goldwater on Goldwater, this should be required viewing for today’s high school students.
I spoke with Andy Friedenberg on the last day of the festival and asked him his thoughts on the weekend. He said, “I am wildly pleased over the success of this festival…the community has wrapped their arms around it…the visitors have been overwhelmed by the kindness of our volunteers and locals, the facilities have just shined, the retail establishments have opened their doors and the Hotel Del Coronado, being our sponsor, has just been so supportive as has the City of Coronado…everybody has been on board.” A fantastic endorsement for next year’s festival. I can’t wait!