San Luis Obispo International Film Festival shifts its focus

This year’s San Luis Obispo International Film Festival pays tribute to the hardworking people behind the scenes

March 8, 2012 

  • SPORTS NITE

    6 p.m. and 8 p.m. tonight

    Fremont Theatre, 1025 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo

    $15, $10 students and film society members per screening

    ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’

    7 p.m. tonight, 6 p.m. reception

    Galaxy Colony Square Theatre, El Camino Real and Highway 41, Atascadero

    $8 to $10 for film; $15 to $20 for reception, costume contest and film

    For more information or tickets to these events: 546-3456 or www.slofilmfest.org

This week, the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival invites you to step behind the scenes of the film industry.

“It’s always important to pay tribute to the people who are making things happen,” said Wendy Eidson, the festival’s executive director. “Quite often, the little people don’t get attention.”

Festival organizers will honor Hollywood’s unsung heroes over five days of film screenings, panel discussions and red-carpet galas at venues across the county.

That’s a shift in focus from previous years, when the festival wooed movie stars such as Morgan Freeman, Malcolm McDowell and Greg Kinnear.

Instead, organizers want to recognize lesser-known figures such as celebrity photographer Timothy White and Sir Richard Taylor, the special effects supervisor behind “Avatar,” “The Adventures of Tintin” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Taylor, a New Zealand native, is slated to receive the King Vidor Career Achievement Award, which honors excellence in filmmaking.

“We’re not Santa Barbara. We’re a little off the beaten path. It’s a little harder to get people to come here,” Eidson said, acknowledging that San Luis Obispo faces stiff competition from larger film festivals and award ceremonies.

“(Celebrities) are used to getting a lot of accolades … and it’s not as special to them,” she explained. “It’s more fun for a lot of celebrities to come and honor someone else.”

Rolling out the red carpet

The festival, which kicked off Wednesday, continues tonight with two red-carpet events: a sing-along screening of the classic movie musical “South Pacific” at the Galaxy Colony Square Theatre in Atascadero, and Sports Nite at San Luis Obispo’s Fremont movie theater.

Sports Nite starts with a screening of the documentary “Finnsurf,” about the hardy surfers who brave icy waves in search of Finland’s perfect stoke.

Director-producer Aleksi Raij will participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening, followed by a performance by the local percussion group Bucket Busters.

Sports Nite continues with “3 Minute Gaps,” which looks at the fast-paced world of competitive mountain biking, and “The Art of Flight,” which features stunning footage of professional snowboarders soaring down remote mountain peaks.

Eidson said organizers were inspired by the success of Surf Nite and last year’s spin-off event, Bike Nite.

“(Sports Nite) broadens the demographic of people who might be interested in seeing movies,” she said, noting that the event coincides with San Luis Obispo Farmers Market.

On Friday, Hearst Castle is the setting of a special screening of “Citizen Kane.”

Loosely modeled on the life of publisher and film producer William Randolph Hearst, “Citizen Kane” follows rags-to-riches newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) from his childhood to his final years.

Friday will mark the first time the film has ever been shown at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center. (There’s a second screening on Sunday.)

The event includes a tribute to Timothy White, who will receive the festival’s new Spotlight Award honoring behind-the-scenes standouts.

Also on Friday is a special presentation of the documentary “Buck,” about real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, at Galaxy Colony Square Theatre.

A full slate of events

On Saturday, visiting filmmakers swap stories at the Indie Filmmaker Panel at San Luis Obispo’s Oddfellows Hall, while younger movie mavens share the fruits of their labor at the Filmmakers of Tomorrow Showcase at Downtown Centre Cinemas in San Luis Obispo.

Meanwhile, the Movie in a Day Marathon at the Warden Building in San Luis Obispo offers budding filmmakers a chance to write, shoot and edit a short film in a single day.

Comedy fans will want to catch Saturday’s screening of the documentary “Happy” at Downtown Centre Cinemas, followed by the second annual Ultimate Laughing Championship.

Saturday comes to a close with the Independent Film Awards and the King Vidor award ceremony at the Fremont, followed by a question- and-answer session.

The recipient of five Academy Awards, Taylor has served as the creative director of New Zealand special effects house Weta Workshop and its affiliates for more than 25 years.

Under his leadership, the companies have created effects for some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, including “District 9,” “King Kong” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“He’s a celebrity in his own world,” Eidson said of Taylor, who was knighted in 2010 for his contributions to film.

Taylor will then join other industry experts for a panel discussion about motion capture technology and its possible applications in business, education, government and medicine.

“It’s a real cool blend of science and art and engineering,” Eidson explained.

The festival wraps up Sunday with the Central Coast Filmmakers Showcase, which features films by local moviemakers, and Green Shorts in SLO, featuring short films about sustainability and the environment.

Screenings take place at Downtown Centre Cinemas, Park Cinemas in Paso Robles and La Perla Del Mar Chapel in Shell Beach.

There’s also a Warden Building panel discussion about film criticism. That event coincides with “An Afternoon with Rex Reed,” featuring the famed film critic, at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center.

Eidson said the festival strives every year to recognize more members of the film industry.

“I know how many people it takes to do monumental things on films,” she said.

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

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