Cinema City

The first-ever Pasadena International Film Festival kicks off Wednesday

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/6/2014

Although the films selected by the curators of the first annual Pasadena International Film Festival begin screening on Wednesday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, the curators themselves are especially excited about Thursday night. That’s when the Westin Pasadena will host the festival’s Great Gatsby-themed gala, a black-tie affair that’s free and open to the public.
The festival, which will screen 85 films from Wednesday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 16, features a different party every night, with the gala Thursday, industry mixers at various bars and restaurants in Pasadena on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and the awards ceremony at the Laemmle theater on Sunday night. There will also be speakers and panels at the Pasadena Museum of History and the Pasadena Central Library.
The theme of the festival itself is 1920s Old Hollywood, a metaphor for “where the old world of film meets the new world of new media.”
“Film as we know it is over,” said the festival’s founder and Pasadena resident Jessica Hardin. “Everything’s going through this huge overhaul and huge shift. The studios are basically just focused on distribution at this point. I and a lot of other people miss the old Hollywood where everything was fresh and new and a smaller amount of people were involved. Everything had a sense of elegance about it. With new media, it’s a whole new thing where people are starting to try to make names for themselves online and with Web series, because the market is so super saturated that they’re trying to find vehicles to squeeze their projects in.”
Hardin and her husband, Marco Neves, both actors, decided to bring a film fest to Pasadena after Neves toured the festival circuit for his 2011 movie “Redemption.” Neves, the festival’s creative director, went to the Almería Western Film Festival in Spain and got an inside look at what it takes to prepare a festival.
“I shared that information with Jessica and we realized, ‘We could do this,’” he said. “Of course, we had no idea how hard this was going to be. This is a behemoth.”
Hardin and Neves have been developing the festival for more than two years. Now in the home stretch, they’ve had to deal with threats of litigation. One of their rules is that filmmakers who submit films must own all the copyrights. An attorney called them and said there was a disagreement between a writer and the directors and producers of a film about copyrights regarding the film, so it was taken out of the running for the festival. The filmmakers actually showed up at Hardin and Neves’ door, yelling and screaming and asking why they were no longer in the lineup and threatened to sue them unless they showed the film. Hardin had to call the cops and got a restraining order against them a couple days later.
Still, Hardin said all the hard work and craziness has been worth it.
“I started laying the groundwork and it sort of snowballed because I think Pasadena was really ripe and ready for a festival,” said Hardin. “When I moved here what I liked was all these events, Art Night, dance festivals, Cheeseburger Week, jazz and wine; it seems like every week there’s something going on. Pasadena is the best of all worlds.”
They met with Mayor Bill Bogaard who said there have been a lot of festivals that have tried to make it in Pasadena but couldn’t get the funding. Method Fest moved to Calabasas and Action on Film moved to Monrovia. The Pasadena International Film Festival’s sponsors include the Pasadena Film Office, the Pasadena Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the city’s Department of Water and Power. 
“We hope that with the success of this year’s festival, next year the city will be a little more supportive,” said Hardin. “Most high-end festivals cost seven figures to put on. I’d say it’s unheard of to do it at the low end we’re doing it at. But the low levels do not represent the quality of the festival. We were smart about it, got creative and used the barter system a lot. We were actually able to not only have a festival, but have a very nice festival.”
As for the films themselves, Hardin and Neves were surprised by the high quality of the submissions they received. Out of 300 submissions, they’ve selected 85.
“We’ve got some really good films in this festival,” said Hardin. “And names, like shorts with Luke Wilson, Ernie Hudson … surprising stuff. It’s more of that super saturation I was talking about. There’s so much out there now that even the stars are going to festivals because at least it’s a vehicle to show their movies.”
The festival includes 15 foreign films from 12  countries, including Russia, Brazil, India, France, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as the United States. Three films are local productions. One, a film that was originally called “Pasadena” until the film’s distributors made the filmmakers change the name to “Cold Turkey,” was filmed in Pasadena and stars Peter Bogdanovich, Alicia Witt and Cheryl Hines. The filmmaker’s idea was that Pasadena is like an East Coast town on the West Coast. There’s also a Pasadena-based production company called Moonhill Productions that has two films playing in the festival: “Salvage” is a documentary about the homeless problem in Los Angeles, and “Zombeo and Juliécula” is the story of Romeo and Juliet with zombies and vampires.
Hardin said the festival will include some great documentaries. “Not My Life,” narrated by Glenn Close, is about human trafficking. “After Kony — Staging Hope,” produced by Melissa Fitzgerald and Martin Sheen, documents the use of drama and writing therapy in Uganda as a creative outlet. “Uniform Betrayal” is about rape in the military.
Film screenings will run from 11 a.m. each day until about midnight. All Access Passes for all screenings cost $95. Industry Passes cost $50 with industry business cards or guild membership cards. Daily Passes cost $25. All of the festival’s events are within walking distance of each other.
“Another thing I love about Pasadena is the walkability of it,” said Hardin. “I wanted to make a walkable event so people could stay at the Westin, go to the Laemmle and walk to pretty much everything. We’re trying to build a film community in the city, because there’s so much culture here. We wanted to make everything accessible.”
On Wednesday a soft opening party will be held at Japon Bistro. Screenings will take a break Thursday evening so the Great Gatsby gala can kick off at 6 p.m. at the Westin, complete with a red carpet, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, cocktails, a performance by the Pasadena Symphony and POPS, speeches, awards, a deejay and dancing. Friday’s industry mixer will be held at the Speakeasy, known during the day as New York Deli. Check their Facebook page for the password to get in.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday producer Tim Harms will moderate a panel of industry leaders as they discuss “The Future of Film” in the Donald Wright Auditorium at the Pasadena Central Library. That panel will be followed by another one moderated by actress and writer T. Lynn Mikeska. The topic of the second panel will be “The Transformational Power of Women in Film.” The industry mixer on Saturday night will be held at SECO: New American Restaurant.
On Sunday, world renowned film historian Marc Wanamaker will give a lecture on Old Hollywood, the history of film and its relation to Pasadena, starting at 4 p.m. That event costs $15 for non-members, $10 for members and $20 at the door. Tickets include museum admission, Wanamaker’s lecture, a wine and cheese reception and parking. To cap off a whirlwind weekend of films, parties and events, the Pasadena International Film Festival’s award ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Laemmle, followed by a final reception at the Vertical Wine Bistro. 
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