Dec 9, 2011


Fellini once said, ‘All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography’. I found this very much to be true from the conversations I had with the passionate filmmakers at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Awards Ceremony held at the New Beverly Regent Cinema on December 7th.

The festival celebrates an eclectic mix of both short and feature films, from multiple countries made for less than five million dollars. All genres are welcome. The thing I love most about festivals such as these is that otherwise overlooked talents are finally exhibited with personal stories made by people who aren’t worried about a bottom line. Studio movies go through enough red tape to smother King Kong with screen tests, focus groups, projections and other corporate jargon; it’s amazing that they even happen.

These films come from a purer place, because that is what drives men like Best Comedy Film Winner, Alexander Tuschinski (only 23, and, as one person noted, like a German Woody Allen) to make films like Menschenliebe (Philanthropy) which was partially inspired by Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man. Tuschinski explains that the film is  about, ‘a young shy physics student, who has problems finding a girlfriend and he’s a big fan of the opera Don Giovanni about the grand seducer. Then a man appears who is like Don Giovanni and coaches him how to find a girlfriend, or should I say, multiple girlfriends’.

Another well-received passion project was Pride, directed by Marc Saltarelli and written by Best Short Screenplay Winner, Tom O’Leary, about a gay man suddenly saddled with his homophobic father who now suffers from dementia and does not remember disowning him twenty years ago. Believe it or not this is a comedy, and the fourth collaboration from this team who managed to reel in talented character actors like Pauley Perrette (NCIS), Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno), and James Karen (too many credits to choose from!).  First time producer, Scott Bussell said, ‘James felt like the part was written specifically for him because he had just been through watching his brother die of Alzheimer’s for two years, so he knew that character inside and out’.

Dr. Limptooth, a feature by directors Maclain Nelson and Matt Jesperson, which won Best Horror Film, ‘but we’re a horror-comedy’, notes Nelson, stars Gary Cole (Office Space) as a psychiatrist counseling an impotent vampire who can’t grow his fangs. This film also won for Best Actor and Actress at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival. Keeping his momentum going, Nelson just finished shooting Monday- ‘it’s Princess Bride meets Willow, a fantasy action movie with a bit of a comedic twist’. Keep an eye out for these!

From festival veterans, we visit festival newcomer and first time director, Ryan Eggold. Eggold is batting 1.000 after his short film, Literally, Right Before Aaron won Best Short Film in its first contest. The film is about a man attending his girlfriend’s wedding and deals with, ‘regret and moving forward and acceptance’. Eggolds’ background is not in directing film, however, ‘I actually went to theater school, I’m an actor (90210)…but I’d love to get into writing and directing, it’s all part of the same thing…you really have a voice as a writer/director’. Seems like he spoke well his first time.

Sometimes things happen quickly, such as with Ray Chao’s short film Little Buddies, about a 14-year old boy trying to reconcile with the death of his father. ‘What is so amazing and special about this film is we shot it on September 9th …and here we are just 90 days later.  I think people like to see quality made film that is quiet- just listening and paying attention.’

Then there are the films that are based on creepy true stories, such as Termite: The Walls Have Eyes by director John Walcutt and starring Best Emerging Actress Winner Jennie Marie Pacelli. Walcutt said of the film’s inspiration, ‘I taught an acting class in a modeling school where a guy got in the walls of the building…and lived in there for six months and carved all these peepholes and spied on the girls and drove everyone crazy’.

Finally, there are the stories that simply must be told, dually functioning as art and the writer’s implement for closure. Best Picture Winner City of Gardens by director Camilo Vila and starring Best Actor Winner John Robinson (Elephant) is based on writer Monty Fisher’s true story about a young American surfer being sent to a Peruvian political prison in 1980. Fisher credited Robinson’s constitution during a tough shoot replete with torture scenes and all.

Lastly, kudos must go to festival runners Tod and Rob (though I am sure others are involved in this endeavor, this is who I met), whose team managed to bring together a fascinating group of individuals to celebrate filmmaking, not moneymaking. I was very pleased to see the aforementioned filmmakers before and after the ceremony creating new collaborations, exchanging emails, ideas and sharing their passion for film with each other. Good people of unlimited artistic value. I am reminded of something Alice Walker said, ‘Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art isn’t there to make us better, then what on Earth is it for?’

Films continue through December 11th. Visit the festival website for scheduling details and full awards results.