Coronado Island Film Festival: A Successful Fusion of Old and New Hollywood


"The Finest Hours" Red Carpet at CIFF 2016

“The Finest Hours” Red Carpet at CIFF 2016

The inaugural Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF) successfully fused old Hollywood with the contemporary film industry this past weekend.

I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to attend a few of the festivals in the SoCal circuit: San Diego Film Festival, Catalina and the La Costa Film Festivals. So I had high expectations for the festival in my own hometown.

It took a few years of steadfast dedication from a handful of believers to convince the laid-back beach town, with a population of 23,500, that it could host a full-scale film festival.

And they did!

CIFF’s Board of Directors used every resource, and over 280 volunteers, to pull off a glitch-free, casually glamorous, and fun holiday-weekend film fete that included 85 films, 6 parties, 4 film-industry pro panels featuring Pixar and DreamWorks execs, and a touching tribute to Martin Luther King with the Emmy and Peabody winning filmmaker, Laurens Grant, as the guest of honor.

Lending legitimacy to this old Hollywood idea for the island film fest was legendary film critic and Honorary Head Juror of CIFF, Leonard Maltin. He initiated the festival in true modern style by, what else, tweeting.

Opening Night

With Klieg lights crisscrossing a misty Opening Night sky, the inaugural festival rolled out the red carpet inside the Vintage Village Theater, named one of the county’s majestic silver screens by USA Today, for the screening of Disney’s “The Finest Hours.” (January 26, 2016)

Craig Gillespie and James Whittaker at CIFF 2016. Photo S. Valle

Craig Gillespie and James Whittaker at CIFF 2016. Photo S. Valle

Maltin introduced “The Finest Hours” director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm” and upcoming “Pete’s Dragon”), and producer James Whittaker who were present for the film. Casey Sherman, author of the book “The Finest Hours” which recounts the true event of the daring ocean rescue, was also in attendance. Adding to the immersive feeling of the film, Captain Jon Spaner, along with several uniformed USCG members, were on hand to greet guests to the festival’s first film event.

Leonard Maltin at CIFF 2016. Photo S. Valle

Leonard Maltin at CIFF 2016. Photo S. Valle

Animation Panel

A festival highlight was the All-Star Animation panel moderated by Maltin. He knows a thing or two about animation since he also authored “Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.” The panelists were Jonas Rivera, producer of Pixar’s Golden-Globe winner and Oscar-nominated animated feature “Inside Out,” along with DreamWorks Animation’s director of “Home,” Tim Johnson and Producer Suzanne Buirgy.

CIFF Animation Panel

L-R: Pixar’s Jonas Rivera, DreamWorks’ Tim Johnson and Suzanne Buirgy, Leonard Maltin.

As Maltin pointed out, when Walt Disney wanted to make the feature-length film “Snow White,” they thought he was nuts. Who would want to see a cartoon at the movies?

Jonas aptly remarked that today’s animated features are not made for children; they are made with adults in mind.

“If you try to make an animated feature for kids, you’re done!” said Jonas.

Jonas Rivera Pixar Producer of Inside Out signed my poster. CIFF 2016

Jonas Rivera Pixar Producer of Inside Out signed my poster. CIFF 2016

The panel was held at the Loews Coronado Hotel where the audience was also treated to a rare behind-the-scenes audio-visual presentation of the years-long process involved in making these animated movies. The amusing videos showed actors like Amy Phoeler, Bill Hader, Steve Martin, Jim Parsons and Rihanna recording the voices for the main characters in “Inside Out” and “Home.”

Kids weren’t entirely left out of the festival, of course. Some of the family-friendly movies at CIFF included “Inside Out,” “Home,” and an exclusive screening of “Kung Fu Panda 3” with a special on-screen message for the CIFF audience from actor Jack Black, as well as midnight screenings of the “Sharknado” trilogy.

Meet the Jury and Film Producers

Lisa Bruce (M) producer of The Theory of Everything.

Lisa Bruce (M) producer of The Theory of Everything.

Lisa Bruce, producer of the Oscar-winning film “The Theory of Everything,” grew up in Coronado. A few years ago, while having lunch with our mutual friend, Susie, we talked about the news of a film festival being floated around town. “That was the first time I’d heard about the festival and I knew I had to be involved,” Bruce told me over a cocktail at CIFF’s Meet the Jury reception.

MLK Tribute

CIFF BOD with Laurens Grant

CIFF BOD with Laurens Grant

In my humble opinion, the crowning jewel of the Coronado Film Fest was the Martin Luther King. Jr. Tribute held at the Sprekles Mansion. The formal event started with a moving version of The Star Spangled Banner by opera singer Angela Petty. This was followed by City Mayor, Casey Tanaka, handing documentary filmmaker, Laurens Grant, a proclamation honoring her film work and accomplishments.

Mayor Tanaka and Laurens Grant. CIFF

Mayor Tanaka and Laurens Grant. CIFF

An emotionally charged reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech had the crowd, and me, in audible sniffles.

During the MLK Tribute Dr. Leslie Huffaker, also a Coronado resident, stepped up to the microphone to share her experiences as a student at Fisk University when she staged lunch-counter sit-ins and met Dr. King.

Huffaker and Grant at the CIFF MLK Tribute

Huffaker and Grant at the CIFF MLK Tribute

The “little blond girl” as King once called her, had a list of vile stories to share with the crowd. One that stood out was when she recounted how the lunch counters had partitions dividing the whites from the blacks. Huffaker was sitting on the blacks’ side when she saw a white boy peek over the partition and remark to his mother that the people on the other side weren’t eating like monkey as he was told they did. “They eat like us” Huffaker clearly recalls hearing the boy say to his mother.

I volunteered for CIFF and helped out with their social media over the 4-day event — it was so much fun! This also explains the same photos you’ll see on their social media and mine. Pulling double duty as a guest author a the Hospitality Tent, made it hard for me to attend all the movies I had on my list.

Meet the Author "101 Movies" Suzette Valle at CIFF Hospitality Tent

Meet the Author “101 Movies” Suzette Valle at CIFF Hospitality Tent

But I made it to most of the important panels and events. My personal highlight was meeting Leonard Maltin. We talked about “101 Movies” and the importance of films as kids grow up. My book was in 150 VIP bags, and Maltin told me he got the book in his VIP bag and liked it!

Leonard Maltin and Suzette Valle at CIFF

Leonard Maltin and Suzette Valle at CIFF


A few of the celebrities who made their way down the 5 and crossed over the bridge to the 75, were James Lafferty (“One Tree Hill”) who starred in “Waffle Street,” a true story to be released this Spring. Alex Wolff (“The Naked Brothers Band,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”), and Stefania LaVie Owen (“The Lovely Bones” “The Carrie Dairies’). Both received the Rising Star Awards at the Celebrity Tribute Awards.

Far Right: James Lafferty and Autumn McAlpin writer of "Waffle Street" Photo S. Valle

Far Right: James Lafferty and Autumn McAlpin writer of “Waffle Street” Photo S. Valle

Old Hollywood was documented at the public library with an exhibit titled “Filmed in Coronado” which featured 100 years of films with memorabilia, posters, and an original copy of Marilyn Monroe’s script from “Some Like It Hot.” Special presentations of old movies like “The Apartment,” “The Stunt Man” and “Dive Bomber” with Errol Flynn were projected for those who wanted to take a step back in time.

Mr. and Mrs. Chris Lemon at CIFF

Mr. and Mrs. Chris Lemon at CIFF

Distinguished celebrity offspring were also at the festival. Chris Lemon, son and the spitting image of his father actor Jack Lemon, accepted The Hollywood Legacy Award on his father’s behalf. Errol Flynn’s daughter, Rory, also paid tribute to her famous father.

The End

As the sun set on the 4-day film festival, a screening of “Some Like It Hot,” filmed at the Hotel Del Coronado in 1959 with Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, was shown on a huge screen right on the same beach where it was filmed.

Some Like It Hot on the Hotel Del Coronado beach. CIFF

Some Like It Hot on the Hotel Del Coronado beach. CIFF

After the Edison lights were dimmed for the night at the Hotel Del, the-little-festival-that-could was over.

But save the date! We’ll see you again during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend next year: January 13-16, 2017 (TBD)

Welcome to the festival circuit, Coronado Island Film Festival!




  1. Rhiannon says:

    This sounds like such a wonderful way to spend the long holiday weekend and the tribute sounds like it was truly done with elegance and class.

  2. This is so exciting! I am so thankful for the little sneak peek I was able to have before the festival – and I cannot wait until next year!

  3. I am SO excited this festival has kicked off. What an awesome way to celebrate film. I love that they added some aspects for the kids as well. I didn’t realize Loews was involved. I just reviewed that hotel and I am in LOVE with your town. I told my hubby we need to buy there now so we can retire there.

    • Suzette Valle says:

      It’s a small world, Mama Munchkin! I can’t believe you were practically in my back yard. Hope to have you back in Coronado soon!


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