A sold-out crowd of filmmakers and friends packed The Speakeasy for awards, cocktails and farewells.
By Mark Tapio Kines
“Let’s party like it’s 1929!”
So went the rallying cry on Thursday, March 10, as the Pasadena International Film Festival (PIFF) concluded its third and most successful year with its “Great Gatsby Gala.” The Speakeasy, Old Town’s not-so-secret bar, was the setting. No password was required at the door this time – but you had to be on the guest list.
Filmmakers, actors and their guests were photographed on the red carpet before “sneaking” into the Speakeasy through its kitchen, GoodFellas style. The bar itself was in full swing by 7:30pm, with attendees standing shoulder to shoulder, talking film and making merry. (Festival sponsor Nothing Bundt Cakes Pasadena fortified partygoers with an array of free, cupcake-like “Bundtinis.”) In keeping with the evening’s Prohibition theme, most guests dressed up for the occasion, with flappers galore and a handful of tuxedo-clad gents. Since this was an independent film festival, one could also spot the occasional rebel in jeans and a T-shirt.
PIFF Creative Director Marco Neves, in the crispest tux of all, and Executive Director Jessica Hardin, glittering with beads, came up to thank their sponsors, volunteers and filmmakers before overseeing the awards ceremony. Fifteen glass trophies were efficiently doled out, and in a testament to the festival’s infectious good will, all winners were in attendance, each praising PIFF and their fellow filmmakers. The most memorable recipient may have been Rico E. Anderson, celebrating his birthday as he picked up the Best Actor award (for the short drama “Dreams My Master”). The room serenaded Anderson with a rousing “Happy Birthday” as he beamed.
I got a chance to speak with several winners after the ceremony, as the party kept going. All expressed great love for Neves and Hardin and their festival, and many had surprisingly personal ties to Pasadena itself.
Take Miguel Garzon Martinez, writer/director of Best Feature award winner “The Broken Legacy.” Martinez hails from Colombia and lives in New York, yet he actually shot “The Broken Legacy” in an old house in Pasadena. (Mexico-born producer/actress Cynthia Bravo met Martinez while both were students at the New York Film Academy in Burbank.) Ironically, Martinez only heard about PIFF when a fellow New Yorker who had screened at the 2015 festival recommended it to him. He was impressed with the quality of the other films – “each one had a unique voice” – and with the screenings’ Q&A moderators.
Seth Christian, writer/director of the short film “Sticks,” which nabbed the Best Thriller award, flew in all the way from Nashville, Tennessee. Christian had screened his previous short at the first PIFF in 2014, and “totally fell in love” with the festival. Amazed at how professional Hardin and Neves were, even in their festival’s first year, he was happy to return.
Most personal of all was the connection for Aaron Wolf, who won Best Documentary for his feature “Restoring Tomorrow,” about the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Wolf was born in Pasadena, had screened films at PIFF in 2014 and in 2015, and vowed to keep coming back no matter what. “The place you’re born is very important,” he said, underscoring the theme of his film, a personal documentary for a filmmaker whose grandfather was a rabbi at the Temple for fifty years.
I also had a chance to catch up with Michael Hilf and Mike Rad, who I met on opening night, days before their horror comedy short (and Best Thriller nominee) “It’s in the Kitchen” screened. This time they were joined by costar April Eckfield and cinematographer Darryl DeLaney. Hilf and Rad enjoyed the films they saw and were happy with their time at the festival, despite a downpour scaring away some audience members on the night of their screening.
Down the line, PIFF was applauded by its attendees for the quality of projection, the venue (Laemmle’s Playhouse 7), the events (especially the panels at Vroman’s Bookstore) and, above all, the warmth and support of the festival’s husband-and-wife directors.
Of course there’s always room to grow: some filmmakers hoped for more outreach from the community, while others wished that the nightly parties didn’t conflict with the screenings – after all, you can’t be in two places at once. But all in all, everyone agreed that PIFF, the Little Festival That Could, has turned out to be something special. If you missed it this year, be sure to catch it in 2017.
> Some links are photos from the Gala.
List of Winners
1. Best Actress, Mandy Moody, "Birthday" 2. Best Actor, Rico E. Anderson, "Dreams my Master" 3. Audience Award "The Shickles" 4. Best Director, Dax Phelan, "Jasmin" 5. Best Screenplay, "The Polish Medallion" by Siovonne Smith 6. Best Feature Film "The Broken Legacy" 7. Best Student Film, "The Duke" 8. Best FX: "Chrysalis" 9. Best Cinematography: "Automotive Landscape No. 1" 10. Best Short "Selling Rosario" 11. Best Documentary, "Restoring Tomorrow" 12. Best Comedy, "The Dissection of Thanksgiving" 13. Best Drama, "Kessi Blue " 14. Honorable Mention, "Go Public" 15. Best Thriller, "Sticks"
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