One sentence sums up this year’s San Luis Obispo International Film Festival: “This is our weekend.”
Now in its 16th year, the festival will feature five days of film screenings, filmmaking panels and celebrity-packed soirees, as well as appearances by Alan Arkin, Rita Rudner, Virginia Madsen and other screen luminaries.
The festival has yet to name the recipient of its annual King Vidor Career Achievement Award.
“It’s going to be a great festival,” said Wendy Eidson, the festival’s executive director. “We have a real variety of stuff.”
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After a sneak preview this weekend, the festival officially kicks off March 9 with the Central Coast Filmmaker Showcase — featuring the world premiere of the documentary “Lynching Charlie Lynch,” about the man who opened a controversial medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay.
Other highlights include nights dedicated to professional surfing and cycling, a “Mamma Mia!” sing-along and the brand-new Chicks ’n Flicks screening series, honoring women in cinema. There’s even a laughing competition inspired by the documentary “Laughology.”
One of the biggest changes this year is a return to a more compact format.
After several years as a single-week event, the festival expanded to roughly 10 days in 2007.
“It was sort of logistical problem to have two weekends,” Eidson said, especially for time- and cash-strapped independent filmmakers.
In fact, she explained, some filmmakers were forced to head home mid-festival after screening their movies, only to return a week later to accept their awards.
Plus, she added, “We’re almost entirely volunteer run. Ten days is a big festival to put on.”
Despite the shorter schedule, Eidson said, the festival is offering just as many films.
This year’s George Sidney Independent Film Competition will feature 60 films — ranging from animated shorts to feature-length documentaries — selected from about 300 submissions. Organizers will also screen about 50 noncompetition films.
According to Eidson, the festival has added new venues, including Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero.
Festival patrons will have a chance Saturday to check out the 10-screen theater, set to open March 18. Attendees can watch family films “Rango” and “The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone,” then enjoy gourmet food, wine and a screening of “Certified Copy,” a lush romance starring Juliette Binoche.
Galaxy Theatres will also host a “Mamma Mia!” sing-along on March 10 and the 50 Years of Classics screening series. The latter features such favorites as “The Searchers,” “Hello Dolly” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Another new festival venue, The Monday Club in San Luis Obispo, will play host to Chicks ’n Flicks, a weeklong series of film screenings, panel discussions and wine tastings funded by a $10,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“It’s not only focusing on women filmmakers since the silent era, but also on women’s issues,” Eidson explained.
Notable speakers include author Mollie Gregory, film historian Shelley Stamp, stunt coordinator Melissa Stubs and television and film writer Teddi Sherman.
On March 11, “Sideways” star Virginia Madsen and her mother, Elaine Madsen, will present their documentary about women and aging, “I Know a Woman Like That.” A day later, Barbara Bain (TV’s “Mission: Impossible”) and Karen Black (“Five Easy Pieces”) will speak about the dramedy “Nothing Special.”
The festival has about 10 venues ranging from La Perla del Mar in Shell Beach to the Vina Robles Winery in Paso Robles.
“We really do try to branch into the community,” Eidson said.
A couple events target the athletic crowd.
The ever-popular Surf Nite, March 11 at the Fremont movie theater in San Luis Obispo, will focus on “The Westsiders.” The documentary follows the rise and fall of a Santa Cruz surf gang through the eyes of three best friends.
Director Josh Pomar will attend the screening along with Westsiders Daryl “Flea” Virostko, Shawn “Barney” Barron and Jason “Ratboy” Collins.Eidson acknowledged the film is a departure from past Surf Nite selections.
“I’m calling it ‘The Sopranos’ on the waves,” she said. “I really try to steer away from movies with surf music and people surfing endlessly. It’s not all just Beach Boys and happiness.”
Professional cycling is the focus of the newly created Bike Night, March 10 at the Fremont.
“It’s another niche that I’m excited to explore,” Eidson said.
Team HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton and cyclist Ina-Yoko Teutenberg will be on hand for the documentary “Crossing Legends,” which follows the San Luis Obispo-based team during the 2009 Tour de France.
Two March 12 events cater directly to fledgling filmmakers: the Filmmakers of Tomorrow Showcase in San Luis Obispo, featuring short films by elementary, middle and high school students, and the Movie in a Day Marathon in Avila Beach. Teams will use Flip video cameras to write, shoot and edit short films.
Awards and laughter
Filmmakers’ efforts will be honored at the George Sidney Independent Film Awards, March 12 at the Fremont.
Last year’s recipient, Oscar winner Alan Arkin, will present the King Vidor award. (He’s also coaching an improvisation workshop March 19 and 20 at Sycamore Mineral Springs in Avila Beach.)
“We’re really flattered that he had such a good time and wanted to come back,” said Eidson, noting that 2007 King Vidor honoree James Cromwell served as a festival judge this year.
Following the awards is the first California Ultimate Laughing Championship, a competitive laughing contest led by “Laughology” director Alfred Nerenberg. He’ll also help head a “laughter yoga” session in Shell Beach on March 13.
According to Eidson, the film festival sold as many as 8,000 tickets last year.
With a new festival format, new venues and new events, she said, “I can’t imagine that not increasing.”Reach Sarah Linn at 78-7907.