As Benford Standley sees it, Paso Robles is perfectly positioned to become a top California destination.
“South of us is Hollywood and movie stars and millionaires. North of us are all the techno-geeks and billionaires,” said Standley, founder of the Paso Robles Digital Film Festival. “In Paso Robles, we want to create a place where those two can merge and network.”
Now in its third year, the Paso Robles Digital Film Festival features five days of film screenings, concerts, panel discussions and parties. The festival runs Nov. 19 to Nov. 23 in Paso Robles, at locations including Level Four, Le Vigne Winery, Franklin Hot Springs and the Pine Street Saloon.
“This year it’s all about the films, the music and the wine,” Standley said.
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A more intimate event
About 1,800 people attended the inaugural Paso Robles Digital Film Festival in November 2008, Standley said.
Although that first festival didn’t attract the crowds organizers had anticipated, due to the economic downturn, he said, “The show itself was incredible.”
Oscar winner Clint Eastwood showed up to honor his longtime editor, Joel Cox. A premiere screening of the documentary “This Is Not a Rodeo,” attended by professional bull riders Gary Leffew, Ty Murray and Justin McBride, all but sold out, and concerts featuring The Bacon Brothers and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott also proved popular.
Last year’s festival, also held in November, drew actors Gary Busey, Luke Perry and Kathleen Quinlan, among others.
This month’s festival is a smaller, more intimate affair than in previous years, Standley said, explaining that he’s reduced the number of events by half to ensure that festival goers can attend everything they want.
One festival highlight is the biopic “Temple Grandin,” based on the true story of an autistic woman who became a leading expert in humane animal husbandry.
The HBO movie garnered seven statuettes at this year’s Emmy Awards, including a directing award for Michael Jackson and acting honors for Claire Danes, David Strathairn and Julia Ormond.
Jackson, whose credits include “The Bodyguard” and “LA Story,” will be on hand Nov. 22 to screen the film. He’s also receiving the festival’s Humanitarian Award.
“Most film festivals — except for Cannes and Tribeca and Sundance — only have one or two big movie stars who come and accept their awards and leave,” Standley said.
In the case of the Paso Robles festival, he added, “They’re not just coming and leaving. They’re staying the night.”
Famous faces at this year’s festival include Martin Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez; Anthony Quinn’s son, Francesco Quinn; and Gary Conway of “Burke’s Law” and “Land of the Giants.”
Bela Lugosi Jr., will present his father’s most famous film, “Dracula,” and promote newly launched Lugosi Wines. And past festival attendee Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Warner Bros. co-founder Harry Warner, returns with her documentary “The Brothers Warner,” about the studio’s pioneering history.
“In the entertainment world, these are the children of royalty,” Standley said, adding that Gina Merz, granddaughter of “War and Peace” director King Vidor, will also be present.
They’re not the only famous offspring attending the festival.
Clint Eastwood’s eldest son, jazz musician Kyle Eastwood, will perform Nov. 21 alongside country star Willie Nelson’s daughter, Paula Nelson, and her band.
“There are not two more iconic men in the business than Willie and Clint,” Standley said. (Nelson’s production company, Luck Films, will also be present.)
Other entertainers at the concert will include singer-songwriter Jade Jackson, magician Rich Ferguson and actor-musician Robert Carradine, star of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Lizzie McGuire.”
The vineyard-rich Paso Robles region inspired a few events on the festival roster, as well.
“Blood Into Wine,” a 2010 documentary about Tool front man Maynard James Keenan and his adventures in Arizona winemaking, screens on Nov. 19.
The next day, producers Brenda and Marc Lhormer present “Bottle Shock,” starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Chris Pine.
Set during the early days of the California wine industry, the 2008 film centers on the 1976 blind taste test known as the “Judgment of Paris,” in which two Napa Valley wines triumphed over their pedigreed French counterparts.
During the Nov. 20 screening, the Lhormers will stage a similar competition pitting Napa wines versus Paso Robles vintages.
Other films being screened at the festival include documentaries about Native American dance, British rock band The Who and literary legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. One selection, “Haute Couture: A Fashion Documentary,” premiered in San Luis Obispo in September.
A new portal
According to Standley, panel discussions, interviews and other festival events will be broadcast live in high definition over multiple platforms, including television and social networking sites.
He’ll also film festival proceedings for an upcoming DVD. “From Film to the Digital Age” will compile footage from all three festivals. “That’s part of the goal — to create this new venue, this new portal for independent film,” Standley said. “We’re not on the cutting edge. We’re the sword.”
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