San Diego Film Festival Wraps Up 9th Year

The San Diego Film Festival wrapped up its ninth successful run this weekend, but the monumental task of screening 85 movies, documentaries and shorts in five days did not come off without a few hitches (or some disgruntled patrons threatening law suits!). Lines were long and theaters full to capacity, but overall  the purpose of putting on the movie-watching event where filmmakers and movie buffs can watch films before their theatrical release in an intimate setting, was achieved.

This year’s selections were nothing short of Oscar quality. From “Conviction” with Hilary Swank, which made its U.S. Premier right here in San Diego,”Welcome To The Rileys” starring James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart, to the World Premier of “The Kane Files: A Life of Trial” with Drew Fuller, these first-run films were first rate.

At the red carpet event held at Reading Cinemas in the bustling Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, I had the opportunity to ask some of the actors and other industry insiders a few things about their films.

The SDFF opened with the somber movie “Morning,” written and directed by Leland Orser (E.R. Saving Private Ryan) who was in San Diego to answer the most burning question on everyone’s’ mind: Why make a movie about a parents’ worst nightmare, the death of a child?


Suzette Valle and Leland Orser at the San Diego Film Festival

“Fear” was Leland’s single word response to my query. He and wife Jeanne Triplehorn, who also stars in the movie, have a healthy, young son who some might think would have kept them from committing a taboo topic like this to celluloid — he tries to portray parents’ sometimes irrational reactions to the devastating loss of a child in the days that follow the burial — not quite the uplifting film some would like to kick off the yearly event with.  But Orser was very  rational when explaining his mind set for this film. After having read a dismaying article in the NYT about the high number of couples who don’t survive the loss of a child, he was taken aback by the awful statistics and delved further to try to understand why this is so.

In a peaceful tone, Orser explained to me that to get through the writing process for this script, he moved into the cottage in the back of his home to separate himself from the comfort and security of his family — something  that would remotely resemble experiencing loss.  I asked him  how he and his wife had come out of this disconcerting experience, and in a tender voice told me he understands the grief process a little better, and how parents might deal with this pain in unusually different ways. “When something this horrible happens,  all bets are off,”  he said explaining the bizarre behavior portrayed on screen by he and his wife. Laura Linney and Robert Gould are among the celebrated cast members in this film.

I also watched the dramedy “A Little Help” (Seattle International) with Jenna Fisher (The Office) and Chris O’Donnell (NCIS Los Angeles, Batman Forever) . In an earlier interview, Fisher said she took on the role of the helpless housewife to try to break out of her TV character, Pam. I’ll let you know later, in my review, if she succeeded.

“Conviction” is a true story based on the 1983 wrongful conviction of Kenneth Waters, and his sister’s life-long quest to prove his innocence and have him released from a life-without-parole sentence. After spending 12 years getting a law degree, Betty Ann Waters succeeded, but the above-and-beyond sacrifices she made for her brother is a lesson about the strength of family bonds that will resonate with many long after the final credits have rolled off the screen. I’ll have a more detailed review of this inspiring tale next week. This must-see movie opens in theaters October 15th.

I caught three out of the nine documentaries shown at the festival: “My Run”, “Making the Boys” and “Dive!”


“My Run” Producers Mark Castaldo and Christine Redlin at the San Diego Film Festival

“My Run” is a powerful and inspirational documentary based on the true story of Terry Hitchcock who ran 75 consecutive marathons to raise awareness about struggling single parents raising kids after he lost his wife to Breast Cancer. Not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, Terry accomplished this in 1996, an incredible human feat for a 57 year old who looks like Santa Claus! The producers told me this film is due to be released in early 2011.

“Making the Boys” (Tribeca) is a documentary about Mart Crowley’s 1970 groundbreaking yet controversial  gay play, “The Boys in the Band” and subsequent Hollywood movie. Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and host of other legendary actors have a connection with this trailblazing film.

“Dive!” is literally about diving…into dumpsters!  The film looks into our nation’s slow transition into a greener lifestyle while it recounts how a man and his family not only collect, but survive on the large quantities of perfectly good food wasted and discarded by major grocery stores on a daily basis. A must-see for Trader Joe’s fans.

The San Diego Film Festival was selected to host the world premier of “The Kane Files: Life of Trial,” an action-packed drama starring Drew Fuller (Army Wives), William Devan (24), William Atherton (Die Hard, Ghost Busters) and David Quane (NYPD Blue, JAG). Fuller received the award for Best Actor at the festival. (Keep an out for my review coming soon.)

One film caused quite a stirr at the festival, “Welcome To The Rileys,” starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight) and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), attracted a huge crowd which included fans of the “Twilight” franchise who traveled from other cities to see this movie.  Many anxious fans lined up early for the single advertised-showing of this film Friday night — it also screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — but the crowds were much larger than theater seating allowed here. Many were visibly upset when they weren’t able to secure a seat inside. The film’s producer, Giovanni Agnelli, excitedly remarked it was a producer’s dream to see throngs of fans who want to watch his film, but he felt very bad they couldn’t all get in. I will be posting a review of this movie closer to it’s theatrical release.

Though I wasn’t able to catch every film I intended to, the eight I did manage to watch touched on a variety of thought-provoking topics. I’ve got to handed it to SDFF co-founder Robin Laatz and her husband, along with Lime Light Public Relations, who work very hard to provide our flip-flop wearing beach city with a little Tinsel Town glamor each a year.

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