Photos by Jerome Brunet
Article by Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the San Pedro International Film Festival is reaching out to a broader audience with a diverse multimedia slate of film, art, music and technology.
The festival has also expanded to an ambitious schedule of 10 days. The calendar includes five feature films, five full-length documentary films, and a program of shorts and student films. Panel discussions cover technology and innovation, as well as a youth film intensive workshop. Live concert performances at various locations around San Pedro add to the bustling schedule.
SPIFFest kicks off on First Thursday Artwalk at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6, featuring two art exhibitions. Both will be shown at the old Threads of Time location, 446 W. 6th St., in San Pedro. One is in conjunction with the documentary Dark Progressivism, directed by historian Rodrigo Ribera d’Ebre and the book, The Federal Informant, written by d’Ebre. The exhibition features the noir series, with works by fine artists Jim McHugh, Roberto Gutierrez and Jose “Prime” Reza. For racing enthusiasts, Cornelius Projects of San Pedro and The Eddie Meeks Archive will present a collection of photographic images of The Brotherhood Raceway Park on Terminal Island.
Among some of the more eclectic offerings during the festival is a webisode series, Breaking Bread, featuring Random Lengths News cuisine writer, Gina Rucccione and Dustin Trani of J. Trani’s Ristorante. Rucccione has created an underground reputation for hosting pop-up dinners in imaginative locations around town. Private homes and art studios have hosted her dinners in the past.
“I guess I realized that in order for us to grow and be different, that we need to differentiate ourselves from what else is out there,” film festival organizer Ziggy Mrkich said. “We had to evolve and look at broadening our audience. It’s not just a film festival this year. I don’t think you can ignore what is going on within the community.”
An exciting new component to the festival is a symposium including a demonstration and panel discussion of virtual reality, or VR. VR has been long discussed as a dream of the future, and the future has arrived, compliments of Hollywood filmmakers. The symposium is slated for Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. at the new theater dubbed The Space. A ‘virtual’ lineup of effects designers and Oscar winners will lead attendees on this journey to the next dimension of entertainment and technology.
“VR is going to have implications in a lot of industries, not only entertainment but health and travel and business,” Mrkich said.
Mrkich came to San Pedro five years ago, after living and working for 20 years in Hollywood. She worked as a development executive in Hollywood for several production companies and also worked for Touchstone Pictures at Walt Disney Studios. After a friend introduced her to San Pedro, she recognized its potential to develop her pet projects.
In 2011, she partnered up with actress and film festival coordinator Renee O’Connor, to launch the nascent film festival. O’Connor has organized the youth film intensive portion of the festival. The youth film intensive is in its fifth year of working with high school students.
The workshop is led by writer and filmmaker Rich Samuels, with producer, writers and directors Todd Felderstein and Dawn Higginbotham. The program leads students through screenwriting fundamentals all the way to producing a film. The teams from this past year’s workshop have five films to screen. Four of the films profile San Pedro artists, including Ben and Peggy Zask, directors of South Bay Contemporary Gallery. Also featured are public artists Adrienne Wade, Ricky Hernandez and Ben Avila.
O’Connor is especially proud of the student film reflecting the life and work of Harold Hall. Hall is a San Pedro violinist turning 102 years old this year.
“We wanted to take this opportunity for the students to create a fifth film for him,” O’Connor said.
And then, there are the feature films. Among the five full-length feature films is Sidemen, Long Road to Glory, a gorgeous retelling of the history of the blues and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. The partners who sat in the studio alongside the famed musicians and traveled for decades introducing the world to the Chicago style of hard hitting blues was given a chance to tell their own stories to director Scott Rosenbaum. Every legendary musician has a group of sidemen who collaborate with the artist to create the signature sound that creates the legend. The great Howlin’ Wolf and the mythological bluesman Muddy Waters had their favorite sidemen who served as family as well as collaborators. Three of the last surviving sidemen from that period were Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.
The original concept of the film was to create a concert film in the tradition of The Last Waltz, the iconic Martin Scorsese documentation of The Band. Rosenbaum spent nearly three years touring with the musicians and recording concerts with a Hall of Fame list of musicians that appear throughout the movie.
But time caught up with the filmmaker before he could finish his project. At the age of 97, pianist Pinetop Perkins won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, which he recorded with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Perkins thus became the oldest winner of a Grammy Award. A month after winning his third Grammy, Pinetop Perkins died. Five months later Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was gone. Within a few months, the great guitar sideman, Hubert Sumlin, creator of some of the most recognizable blues riffs ever recorded, and anointed son of Howlin’ Wolf, joined his partners. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards paid Sumlin’s funeral expenses.
Rosenbaum had captured time in a bottle, but he had a half finished film. He spent several years sorting out the direction he would take to come up with a loving tribute to the sidemen whose music is ingrained in our memories.
The film was named one of the Top 5 films from the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, and it is a treat to have it here in San Pedro, a town that knows its music. Sidemen, Long Road to Glory, screens at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8, at The Space, 624 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro.
There is much more to see and do at SPIFF 2016, including a town hall discussion cultivating a creative corridor in San Pedro, a Bukowski tribute and Lunafest, short films by, for and about women.
For the complete schedule and to purchase tickets go to spiffest.org.