Ojai hosts fourth annual Film Festival
By Jesse Phelps
The time has come again for the
cinephiles and art fans in Ojai to get their fill of hard-to-see
filmic gems with a mere trip to the local theater, Woman's Club
or Art Center. One of the latest additions to Ojai's proud festival
culture, the Ojai Film Festival makes its return this weekend
for its fourth installment. And this year, organizers say, promises
to be one of the best yet.
In its first year, the festival received more than 300 submissions,
said artistic director Steve Grumette, a number that has increased
over the years, to over 500 for the 2003 festival. A rigorous
culling process determined the final selections, which encompass
many styles of filmmaking.
Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony at the Art Center Sunday
at 11 a.m. in the categories of best documentary short, best
documentary feature, best narrative short, best narrative feature,
best student film, best animated film and a festival theme award.
This year's theme is "Enriching the Human Spirit through
Film," something festival executive director Barbara Hadley
said intrigued her.
"At a time when the world feels particularly uneasy, when
the struggles of human beings all over the world feel every day
closer to home, this seemed to me to be a worthy and important
challenge," she said in her notes for the festival program.
Grumette said he's excited about the selection of films this
year, saying that "the overall quality of the programming
Grumette said the selection process was difficult because of
the increase in quality entries and the fact that art is so subjective.
"It's not science where you can add up the numbers and everybody
agrees," he said.
And such is the pleasure of a festival like Ojai's. The slate
of films include projects dealing with issues as diverse a young
heart patient, an interracial community living in the Deep South
during the time of segregation, a documentary about Mother Teresa
and a narrative feature that takes place during World War II.
An entire sub-festival dedicated to the films of teenagers will
be highlighted on the big screen at the Ojai Playhouse on Sunday
Morning (see adjoining story).
Grumette said that "Mother Teresa:
The Legacy" will be making
its North American Premiere, just days after its initial showing
at the Vatican, where it was screened for the Pope. "The
filmmaker is flying in directly to Ojai from Rome," Grumette
Festivities got underway on Thursday with the first set of screenings
at the three locations and a special opening ceremony in Libbey
Park. Director Chris Eyre was on hand to present "Smoke
Signals," which festival representatives said is the first
full-length feature film written, directed and co-produced by
Programs are available at locations throughout the valley and
a full schedule of the films can be found in today's Ojai Valley
If you missed out on a Thursday screening, Grumette said, some
of the more promising entries that have already screened at the
Art Center Theater will reprise at The Women's Club on Saturday.
Saturday is also the day for some other festival highlights still
to come, including an intriguing list of seminars. The Stephen
Simon Institute will accept 25 people for an all-day discussion
on the spiritual aspect of the filmmaking process. Simon, who
will receive the festival's "Limelight Award," produced
"What Dreams May Come" and "Somewhere in Time,"
Ron Bass, author of such scripts as "Rain Man," "My
Best Friend's Wedding" and "The Joy Luck Club,"
will facilitate a screenwriting seminar at noon, which will be
moderated by Simon.
And space is likely to be very tight for the "Actors on
Acting" seminar, which will include Matthew Perry of "Friends"
fame and some other very special celebrity guests.
Tickets for all events, including special, reduced-price "six-packs,"
can be procured at a variety of local establishments, including
Ojai Creates!, the Art Center and the Ojai Valley Chamber of
The Ojai Film Festival was born in 2000 after Grumette visited
Moab, Utah, as a judge for that city's Canyonlands Film Festival.
"It's a town about the size of Ojai," he said. "I
had a great time up there for about five days and when I came
back I thought, it's town a lot like Ojai in that it's a tourist
attraction and its an artist community and they were able to
have a little film festival. Unlike Ojai, which is 75 miles from
L.A., this is literally in the middle of nowhere. So, I figured,
Ojai is only an hour and half's drive from the motion picture
capitol of the world. If they can have a festival, why can't
After working with the Ojai Film Society, Grumette convinced
its members to host the festival and the rest, as they say, is
The festival has since split from the Film Society and all indications
are that it's standing well on its own two feet. "We got
our non-profit status in record time," said Grumette.
As this, the third sequel to the original, plays out, he hopes
that both those in the valley and those who travel to attend
continue to find the quality impressive.
So far, he said, the support of the community has been key. A
large team of volunteers has helped to keep the festival afloat
and as its profile climbs year by year, the works submitted improve.
It's looking like an institution that's here to stay and that's
all any local film lover could ask for
The Ojai Valley News
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