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Get in-FESTED!

Or, how best to fest

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OK, this is a bit embarrassing, but I’m just going to admit it now and get it over with. I had already been the director of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival for about a year and a half before I really understood how to “do” a film festival! And when I say “do,” I don’t mean how to organize one. That continues to baffle me. But I mean “do” as in the sense of partaking in a film festival—“festival-going” you might call it. I had never done it!

Oh, I’d been to film festival screenings before. I lived in Toronto when that festival, now one of the world’s most important, was just getting started. And I’d even been to a couple of SLOIFF movies—well, one at least. But it wasn’t until I had the chance to spend several days at the Sonoma Film Festival in the spring of 2008 that I discovered the utter enchantment of going from movie to movie all day for several days—something I would never have thought fun until then. While I’ve always been a movie buff, I was more of a one-movie-a-day person. The thought of sitting for many hours in the dark on a day that wasn’t pouring rain was quite repugnant to me, in fact.

But that weekend, everything changed. A light bulb went on for me in one of those dark theaters, and I realized what a blast it was to go from film to film, experiencing the “insider” stories from the directors, producers, and cast members in attendance. It was so personal. So memorable. So much better than just munching on popcorn and leaving when the credits rolled. Comparing notes with other festival-goers in the lines as we waited for the next one to begin. It literally gave me a buzz, and it suddenly became clearer to me why I love doing what I do.

Now I proudly share that natural high with a growing number of people in our community who are learning how to fest! I love watching newcomers to the festival suddenly “get it” like I did and literally get hooked. The fear of doing something new, of seeing a film you’ve never heard of, with no recognizable names or “stars” in it, having to be mentally challenged, or watch a film that you might not like: this is usually what keeps people away from film festivals. And I get that!

So we’ve made it our mission at the SLOIFF to not only make it a fun and memorable experience for the audience members who dare to face these fears, but also for the filmmakers who come to SLO County, some from great distances, to enjoy our cool and understated community. This ain’t Hollywood, and we like it that way. And so do they!

This year, the SLOIFF turns 18, and we’ve got a party happening every night to celebrate! We’ve gone through adolescence and have emerged an adult film festival. No, not that kind of “adult film” festival, but if you’re looking for something titillating, we’ve got that, too! We’ve got something for everyone and we’re proud of the eclectic mix of films, events, and workshops that make up our carefully curated program.

We also have the unusual opportunity to be able to share incredible films on a wide variety of topics with almost every nonprofit organization in our community. Each year, we choose inspiring films about things like autism, homelessness, arts education, tolerance, and environmental preservation, as well as lighter topics like the science of happiness, the stoke of surfing a 50-foot-high wave, and the ever-elusive pursuit of love and romance. We find ways to promote the issues: by letting members of an organization be part of a Q&A after the film; by giving a portion of the proceeds to a matching cause; or by collaborating with an organization in a shared fundraiser.

The movies come in all lengths and all languages, but they all have one thing in common: They are thought-provoking, well-made films you might not see anywhere else. And if you really liked it, you can buy the director, producer, and/or cast members a beer or a coffee after the movie. It’s just that cool!

Buy an inexpensive Movie Fanatic pass (six films for $50) and give it a try. I can promise you won’t be disappointed. Pass holders get in first, so you can sashay past the single ticket buyers like a big shot as you wave to them on your way into the theater. At most screenings, you’ll get to vote on your favorite new film in the festival. Ballots are handed out for every film in competition, and the Audience Awards are presented on Saturday, March 10, at the Fremont Theatre, before the annual King Vidor Award. This year’s recipient of that special tribute is Weta Workshop’s Sir Richard Taylor, the creative brain behind the computer animation technology used in Avatar, Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tin Tin, and many more. He’s won more Academy Awards than any other King Vidor Award recipient to date: five and counting!

You don’t have to do what I did and leave town to find out how cool film festivals are. You can experience the “Film, Wine, and Fun” right here in San Luis Obispo County, from March 7 to 11.

So take a gamble—get off your couch, go to the closest SLOIFF venue (they’re all over SLO County), and get “in-Fested!” You just might be in for one of the most rewarding movie experiences you’ve ever had. Still feeling a little insecure? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. With 50th anniversary screenings of the ultimate classics To Kill a Mockingbird and The Music Man, as well as a sing-along version of South Pacific, we’ve got ways to give you the movie buzz you’re after at the 18th annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival … where movies matter!

Wendy Eidson is executive director of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Send comments via Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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