San Diego International Film Festival — It’s a Wrap!

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I can’t believe you people. Each year I tell you why you should go to the San Diego International Film Festival, and then I end up telling y’all about the great movies I saw and filmmakers I met. And you all seem so bummed, and here it all goes again.

The last couple days of the film festival, my wife and I saw some movies we really enjoyed. One of them was Dismissed. It’s the story of a straight A student that won’t let anything stand in his way. That might mean the top chess player at the school has “an accident” or his teacher, that has the nerve to give him a B+ on an assignment, will start taking his wrath. It was all so well done and fascinating, and the crowd was on the edge of their seats wondering just what craziness this kid would do next. I happened to be sitting next to the mother of the chess player, and before the movie started, we talked a lot about her son’s career. He made a short with Ghandi’s grandson that ended up winning an award at Cannes. He and the other cast members were here and after the movie, did an interesting Q&A with co-host Jeffrey Lyons.

Earlier, my wife and I were drinking wine in the VIP lounge, and we ran into Chris Eddy and his wife. We had met him the night before and had a great conversation about movies. He looked dapper in a white bowtie, and had cool suspenders that were film strips. Seeing the Eddy’s the next day, and comparing all the movies we saw, was a lot of fun.

I ran into Ludvina and Sonny Nevarez. They’re patrons of the festival, and I always look forward to seeing them and catching up. This year, my wife had the pleasure of watching Sonny Nevarez Jr. host the Culinary Cinema film 42 Grams. We knew Sonny was easy on the eyes, but who knew he had skills behind the microphone, too. My wife also got to enjoy the food and wine samplings following the movie. Lucky for my wife, the food was delicious; lucky for me, it was all things I wouldn’t eat like raw fish and pork belly!

I didn’t realize that at the Regal in Horton Plaza, you weren’t allowed to bring alcohol into the theatre. At the ArcLight, you’re allowed to. Since my wine got confiscated as we were about to see our movie, I went back into the lounge to plot my next move. Ah, there it was! I went over to where the Buzz Boxes were set up. Two guys were standing there talking about how much they love them, and one complaining he only sees them at the film festival. The other told him he buys them at Whole Foods. I said, “You know what I love about them, guys? I can put one in each pocket of my blazer, and conveniently sneak them into the theatre.”

They laughed, as a security guy walked by saying, “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.”

We went in to see a Western — a genre I’m not a big fan of. Yet The Ballad of Lefty Brown was terrific. Bill Pullman plays Lefty Brown, who is a bit of a bumbling goofball, and the right hand man to rancher Peter Fonda. Tommy Flanagan (Sons of Anarchy) plays an alcoholic marshal, and with each drink he took…I took a sip from my Buzz Box. All I needed was a spittoon by my side. Jim Caviezel plays the slimy, backstabbing politician. This movie was a blast.

Afterwards, I ran into Tonya Mantooth, who is always working so hard, but had the time to chat about movies. She was asking if I had seen Juggernaut, which I hadn’t. At a party a few days earlier, she introduced me to a few of the cast members.

We talked about how much we both enjoyed 20 Weeks and Entanglement.

The filmmaker awards are always a lot of fun. It’s great to see young filmmakers being awarded, often for the very first time, for a project they put years of blood, sweat, and tears into. And speaking of tears, when Selling Isobel won an award, it was touching to hear actress/writer Frida Farrell speak. She had written about being involved in a sex trafficking ring, and she got to play herself in the film based on her book. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

When The Lonely Italian won an award, it was hysterical watching the large crew make it to the stage. My wife said, “It reminds me of Roberto Benigni at the Oscars for Life is Beautiful.

The greatest thing for me was seeing the movie Dog Years win the Chairman’s Award. Dale Strack got up and gave a great reason for awarding this film the award, talking about redemption, and other themes the movie tackled.

I was happy about this for two reasons. After my wife and I watched Burt Reynolds, who came out of retirement to do the movie, we were so moved. We had planned on going to see the latest Blade Runner, but we were so captivated by the movie, we stayed. And listening to Director Adam Rifkin riff about the stories on the set with Burt Reynolds was a treat for the crowd. I asked him something based on Reynolds refusing to take off his hairpiece for the part in Terms of Endearment, which lead to the studio casting Jack Nicholson (who won the Oscar). I asked, “Did you at least try to get Reynolds to do the part without the toupee?”

Rifkin smiled and said, “Yeah, we tried. He didn’t want to. But it really didn’t matter. He showed such vulnerability and the performance worked fine.”

Listening to Rifkin talk about how much of a fan he was made his enthusiasm infectious. At one point he said, “I don’t think Burt ever got the credit he deserved for being a good actor, because he did so many silly movies.”

Since Boogie Nights is one of my favorite movies of all-time, I asked about that and what some of his favorite Reynolds movies and scenes were in those movies. He agreed that Boogie Nights was great, but he liked a scene in Deliverance with a close-up is of Reynolds right before he shoots the arrow that saves Jon Voight’s life. The other movie he mentioned was Semi-Tough. Oh wait…maybe it was The Longest Yard. I can’t remember.

Rifkin had a terrific story about writing this movie. He got the script to Reynold’s manager and said, “I wrote this specifically for him to play the part of Vic Edwards. If he doesn’t want to do it, I’m not going to make the movie.”

The next day he got a phone call from Reynolds, who told him if it were 10 years ago he wouldn’t have done it, because it touched too close to home.

Yet even with Reynolds onboard, it took seven years to actually get the movie made. And it now has Chevy Chase playing the best friend, as well as Ariel Winter (Modern Family) and Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine). Duke plays a movie buff that runs a rinky-dink film festival in Nashville. They’re giving Vic Edwards a lifetime achievement award, and when he shows up to receive it, he realizes just how small the festival is. For example, it’s being held in a bar. The movie ends up taking you on an emotional roller coaster, as we watch an arrogant actor start to contemplate his regrets in life. As movie critic Jeffrey Lyons said, “This is the movie that will get Reynolds the Oscar nomination next year.”

Anyway, at the awards show, I saw the director sitting by himself at a table. I asked if we could join him, and we ended up spending an hour before the show talking about our favorite movies and directors. At one point I felt bad, when the woman with him, and my wife, just sat there as we rattled off our favorite Woody Allen pictures and dissected his career, including the obscure films. It was such a fun time talking movies with him, and I’d periodically asking him about things he did in Dog Years.

So when he was given the Chairman’s Award at the end of the evening, I almost jumped out of my seat with excitement.

Next year, I’ll be bugging everyone to get tickets to the San Diego International Film Festival. And I’ll be telling them to see Dog Years.

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