For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

20th Annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival: Highlights!

The Fremont Theatre's richly-decorated ceiling in downtown San Luis Obispo.
A wise friend recently told me: "Creativity is the greatest gift in the world." How wonderful that  San Luis Obispo County recently played host to filmmakers, cinema fans, celebrities and creative minds alike, who came together for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF). This 5-day celebration transformed SLO County's every day utopia into a cinematic paradise, allowing guests the golden opportunity to watch artistic gems on the big screen and attend once-in-a-lifetime events.

Celebrating its 20th year, the festival's staff, board of directors, sponsors and legion of volunteers made this platinum anniversary year unforgettable. I've been attending this festival since 2007, and each year just gets better and better. When the schedule comes out, I struggle with which movies and events to chooseyou just can't see them all or be everywhere at once. This year was no different. 

Adam West
Attending the Opening Night festivities was a must. American icon Adam West, best known for his role as the famous Caped Crusader in the 1960s classic television series, Batman, was honored at the Fremont Theatre. After a screening of director James Tooley's documentary, "Starring Adam West," the world's foremost Batman accepted the festival's Spotlight Award. This honor, bestowed to one of Hollywood's most humble, genuine and funny actors, brought Bat Fans and people from all ages to take part in this historic night in downtown San Luis Obispo.

After this incredible opening, the next four days were jam-packed with film, wine and fun at various locales around the county. I handpicked several key events and movies, including compelling documentaries, shorts, narrative features and special event films. Some of these movies were intense and emotional, while others brought laughter or radiated high energy to the audience. Here are a few highlights.

"Botso: The Teacher from Tbilisi"
Botso Korisheli and Charlotte Alexandar
This movies' tagline says it well: Sometimes a story is so inspiring that it must be told. The extraordinary life of one of San Luis Obispo County's long-time residents, Wachtung "Botso" Korisheli, who escaped Stalinist Georgia into Nazi Poland and Germany, eventually making his way to the United States, is one of the most compelling films I've ever watched. In spite of the devastating and tumultuous events he lived through in his native country, Mr. Korisheli, who currently resides in Morro Bay, has lived a peaceful, exemplary life as a musician, sculptor, teacher, mentor, husband, father and friend to many. It's no surprise that this movie won the Neil Travis Best in the Fest Award. 

"Boogie Stomp!"
Musician Bob Baldori directed this electrifying documentary which transports audiences into the rhythmic world of boogie woogie—an African-American style of piano that became popular in the late 1930s and early '40s that is the backbone of American music. Mr Baldori, who's been performing blues, boogie and rock for several decades and played hundreds of dates with Chuck Berry, combined talents with fellow Detroiter Bob Seeley, known to insiders as one of the best boogie players in the world. 

Actor Jeff Bridges and Director Bob Baldori at the King Vidor Reception
Their foot-stompin' journey takes them on performances all over the world, where they fuse their own style and unique talents. This mesmerizing film not only tells a tale of two great performers connecting later in life, but enlightens the audience with the rich music history that's shaped our country and the world, and compels moviegoers to get up and out of their seats. After the festival screening, Mr. Baldori asked the audience if this movie made us want to get up and dance, to which we replied a resounding: "Yes!"

Boogie Stomp! is a must-see!

Surf Nite in SLO
Honk playing live at the Fremont Theatre
Each year the SLOIFF brings its most popular event, Surf Nite in SLO, to the Fremont Theatre. This year, a packed audience got their groove on while watching the cultural icon, "Five Summer Stories." Made by Californians Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, this 1972 classic surfing flick portrays a young, outlaw sport from the watershed era of the '70s, featuring surfing gurus David Nuuhiwa, Eddie Aikau, Gerry Lopez and Sam Hawk. Heralded as one of the finest surf films ever made, its original soundtrack by the band Honk introduced an original new sound to surf films at that time.  

The last time Honk played in concert after this film was over 20 years ago and the SLOIFF made history at this year's Surf Nite in SLO. After the "Five Summer Stories" festival screening, Honk rocked the stage with an eclectic mix of their songs from over the years, intermixed with tunes from this swell film, while the Fremont's giant screen splashed staggering wave scenes. Epic!

"A Birder's Guide to Everything"
Filmmaker Luke Matheny
Sometimes you just need a good laugh. This delightful coming of age tale about teenage birdwatchers brought comic relief to the SLOIFF. Co-writer Luke Matheny, the 2011 Oscar-winning "God of Love" filmmaker/star, was in attendance for an entertaining Q&A after the screening. The plot, storyline, writing and cast of this film was top-notch and it tied for Best Narrative Feature in the festival's George Sidney Independent Film Awards. Look for this playful film in select theaters and on demand, March 21st. 

King Vidor Awards & Reception
On Saturday night of the festival, actor James Cromwell presented the Dude himselfJeff Bridges—with the SLOIFF's highest honor, the King Vidor Award. Mr. Bridges has been charming audiences since his childhood; some of his notable roles over the years include "The Last Picture Show," "Starman," "The Fisher King," "The Big Lebowski," "The Contender," and "Crazy Heart" for which he won an Oscar. The sold-out audience welcomed this Oscar winner and appreciated his laid-back, mellow persona during the Q&A with Mr. Cromwell. At the reception held later that evening at the SLO Masonic Lodge, Mr. Bridges sipped on SLO County wine while mingling for a bit with guests, providing an unforgettable experience. 

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival's extraordinary influence comes but once a year. When this SLO County festival rolls around, we can't see or experience everything, but we can take with us what we've discovered. This was the SLOIFF's 20th year and I'm willing to bet that each of us who have attended the festival over the years are a little—or a lotbetter for the opportunity to catch a few thought-provoking movies and creative events that don't normally come our way. 

Hats off to the SLOIFF for an ingenious 20th anniversary!

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