We laughed, we cried, and experienced the full gamut of emotions from the high caliber of films and panels at this year’s Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF). There were so many talented films and industry leader events, that it was impossible to see even half of the offerings, with the range of topics geared to appeal to people of all ages and preferences. Attendees had the chance to experience different genres than those they might not normally gravitate towards. This was true for me, and I immensely enjoyed each event I attended.
Three films by San Diego filmmakers were showcased in the Local Documentary Shorts Collection: The Roads Most Traveled by Don Bartletti and Bill Wisneski, Letters Home, honoring his grandpa during World War I, by Peter Maxwell, and Sounds of the Sidewalk ~ A Journey of Goodbye‘, capturing the last weeks of Steven Ried’s life, by Michele Zousmer and Benjamin Huerta Cristobal.
The Roads Most Traveled chronicles the 40-year career of photojournalist Don Bartletti, who went from The Vista Press to the Oceanside Blade Tribune, to The San Diego Union Tribune, and ultimately the Los Angeles Times, where the world was his beat. He was assigned to Central America to cover the Nicaraguan, El Salvadoran, and Honduran migration to the U.S., which presented a real learning curve, getting comfortable in new situations and learning Spanish. He was soon at ease traveling all over Mexico and Latin America, where he documented the struggle of people as their countries were failing. He shares the story of “Enrique’s Journey” as the first photojournalist to ride “La Bestia,” the freight trains used by Central American stowaways to try and reach the American border and a better life. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, for the six-part series, where Enrique was ultimately reunited with his mother in North Carolina, after 10 years apart. When he saw what was happening with the wave of illegal immigration in 2018, he noted that the similarity was ghastly, and not much had changed as people tried to improve their lives. He explained that he sees photos “as a way to organize confusion, with the goal of showing something people haven’t seen before.” He feels that photography is the greatest gift of the 21st century to show people emotions, like sadness and joy, so they can relate to the tears or laughter of others.
The Salute to Veterans! event on Thursday afternoon was a true celebration to our veteran heroes. CIFF Chair Doug St. Denis detailed the history of North Island, which was allocated to both the Army and Navy in 1917. Executive Director Merridee Book pointed out that Coronado is synonymous with the military and impacts our daily lives. Coronado is known as the place where aviation was born and grew up, and Navy ships are a familiar site as well.
The CHS Junior ROTC presented the flag ceremony and the La Jolla trumpeteers played the National Anthem. From the first timpani drum note of “America the Beautiful,” the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and all of the Coronado Concert Band members played in perfect harmony. The melodious tune of the “Midway March” from the Midway movie soundtrack was stirring from the quiet notes to the crescendos. The fun rendition of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” made you tap your toes, with its varying tempos, and the beloved, reverent “Amazing Grace” brought chills to the audience.
Former military chaplain and filmmaker Justin Roberts, who made the impactful 2017 No Greater Love documentary, spoke of his admiration for how people came together on the battlefields for something bigger than themselves. He talked about dealing with veterans’ feelings, now that the 20-year war in Afghanistan has ended. CIFF Board member Mike Woiwode introduced the Chamber of Commerce film by Tony Perri / Surf’s Up Studios highlighting The Young and the Brave ~ Applauding Military Kids, the theme for this years’ Military Ball, where the Chamber hosts 100 military couples at The Hotel del Coronado. Due to the pandemic, this event has been delayed until April 9, 2022. In closing, Musica Vitale, directed by Elena Vizuet, combined with the Coronado Concert Band, presented three final numbers, including “Ave Maria.”
Drum roll for the opening night film premiere of C’Mon C’Mon, the story of a tenuous, but transformational relationship between Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew, played by Woody Norman. From writer-director Mike Mills, the story explores the delicate connection between adults and children, the past and the future. Attendees raved about the film, calling it thought provoking and relatable, as it emphasizes the resiliency of children. They also noted the superb acting, which they expect to garner award nominations. The red carpet after party at Emerald C Gallery brought art and film together as attendees enjoyed drinks, while admiring the artist exhibits and discussing movie reflections.
We opted to attend the opening night of international films by seeing Best Families (Las Mejores Familias) in the Parish Hall Theater. Getting acquainted with one of the film’s actors, Jely Reategui, made the movie even more impactful. She originally wanted to be a producer or director but at 21 decided to switch sides to the front of the camera and be an actor, and she has built a career in her native Peru. Three months ago she took a leap out of her comfort zone and moved to Los Angeles seeking acting roles here. Of the movie, she says that the 26 actors became good friends, and this was evident in one of the final scenes where they are all together. Best Families uses humor to make the tough topic of class distinction relatable. It almost seems like sisters Luzma and Peta are part of the families they work for, but when an unexpected guest Merche, played by Jely, arrives, secrets are revealed and just when you think it will all blow up, Alicia and Carmen, the Peruvian mothers, do what Latin mother do best, feed the family, as they come together. I promise you will laugh at the antics as the two families go back and forth between their house through the garden, as violent protests rage outside the compounds.
If anything can bring people from different views together, chocolate will do the trick. Based on the true story of the Peace by Chocolate company, this story starts when the Hadhad family, Syrian refugees, relocate to tiny Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Upon arrival, the son Tareq plans to continue his dreams of medical school, while his father Isam, doesn’t speak English and needs him to help the family navigate their new surroundings. Not one to sit around, Isam goes to work doing what he loves and creates amazing chocolates in his tiny kitchen. Ultimately, the community supports him with the gift of a small shed and the family is able to grow the business into a full-fledged factory which now ships chocolates worldwide, even sending them with astronauts in space. This compelling story embodies their slogan “One Peace Won’t Hurt.”
Glitz and Glam were on display at the star-studded Leonard Maltin Celebrity Tribute Dinner and Awards at The Del on Friday evening, November 13. Each year, CIFF honors film industry leaders and this year gave the Legacy Award to Ann Blyth, renowned and multi-talented actor, known for her acting and vocal prowess in the 1940s and 1950s. The Cultural Impact Award belongs to Academy Award-winning actor and social activist Richard Dreyfuss, who wasn’t able to attend at the last minute. The Leonard Maltin Tribute Award went to Nancy Utley, who has a 21-year legacy at Searchlight Pictures resulting in 158 Academy Award nominations. Mayes Rubeo received the Artistry in Filmmaking Award. She earned an Oscar nomination for JoJo Rabbit and an Emmy nomination for Marvel’s WandaVision. The Cinematography Award was awarded to Gabriel Beristain, whose work has been recognized in his home country of Mexico, the U.S., and throughout Europe, having worked on multiple films in the Marvel Universe.
Award winning filmmaker and University of Oregon Professor of Documentary Studies and Production, Mitchell Block, was on hand as a CIFF juror to enjoy the festivities. He produced the 10-part PBS series Carrier, which he shot on the USS Nimitz, so he has a strong Coronado Navy connection.
The outstanding Culinary Cinema selections included Ingrediente: A Restaurant Uprooted, where filmmaker Jill Sawhney was on hand for a question and answer session after the moving film. This journey started as a six-part series on the Baja region, when the pandemic hit and the border closed. She pivoted and focused her camera on Michelin Star Chef Drew Deckman of the renowned Deckmans el Mogor in Baja, California, who was forced to close. This film documents how he and his staff cooked meals for 200 people, including his staff, local fisherman, and their families. Deckman and his wife Paulina count this time as an unexpected gift, in which they got to spend more time with their children and revamp the kitchen and menu. As difficult as closing down was, he has remained true to his outdoor restaurant concept, which started with a single tree, where farm fresh meals are served family style, with a zero kilometer footprint, getting all his produce, fish, and other ingredients from local purveyors.
Whether you are a tennis fan or not, no doubt you are familiar with tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams. A new film chronicling their rise to stardom, King Richard was introduced at CIFF’s Saturday night premiere by celebrity Leonard Maltin. Maltin shared that the director Reinaldo Marcus Green, is a newbie in the industry but made an impression on two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith, who played the impactful and quirky key role and was also an executive producer. To say that as a dad Richard instilled determination in the whole family is an understatement. No obstacle was too great, as he didn’t let anything deter him from the plan he created for the duo before they were born. He and his wife Oracene, played skillfully by Aunjanue Ellis, expected the best from each of their five daughters and went out of their way to keep them grounded. Richard embodied the phrase, “I am in the champion raising business,” and he proved it over and over, trying to connect his daughters with the right coaches and opportunities, away from their rough hometown of Compton. This poignant movie demonstrates the bond of family and perseverance and shows how the sport of tennis was forever transformed by the extraordinarily gifted athletes Venus, played by Saniyya Sidney, and Serena, played by Demi Singleton, who are standout actors. Talking with our friends after the show, which was so riveting we didn’t even realize it went two hours and twenty-four minutes, we all agreed that we expect Oscar buzz for this film and its talented actors.
As CIFF wrapped up, Book shared a bit about putting the festival together. She stated that organizing the festival starts in February (well, it really starts the day after the last festival), but there is non-stop action these last five weeks leading up to it. Film acceptances go out September 1, so it’s a five week whirlwind process to organize the acceptances and lock in details before they go live with the full festival program.
Book emphasized that she’d heard attendees say, “it’s been magical to come together in a room to experience theater with others again.” She shared that this year’s attendance was higher than anticipated, and was in fact their largest crowd ever, noting that the new Master Lab Workshops turned out to be amazing with in-depth discussions on a variety of topics hosted by seasoned professionals in production, costume design, writing, and cinematography.
The festival isn’t quite over for festival badge holders, who can still access all of the shorts, along with two special international features not screened at the festival, through November 17. Go to virtual.goelevant.com to sign in. The Sunday evening screening of Some Like It Hot was a fantastic way to wrap up the festival, accompanied by a commemorative poster created by renowned artist Michael Ives, who also showed a brief film on how he created it on his iPad.
This was my first time attending the CIFF and it most certainly won’t be my last. I can’t wait to see what’s on the docket for next year.