Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Img47.pngI will always say the best time to visit Ojai is during the autumnal equinox.  Whenever anyone quips that Californians don’t have seasons, I simply retort, “Sounds like you haven’t been to Ojai in October.”  The liquid amber trees’ verdant leaves seem to turn to earth, rust and gold right before your eyes while an early morning light casts an umber glow across the valley that signals fall’s arrival.  Shadows lengthen and crisp sunny days yield bright blue skies that frame the Topa Topas in such a way that you’re sure you can reach out and grab Chief Peak’s nose.  And clear starry nights beckon you to a bench under a blanket in Libbey Bowl beneath 200-year-old oak trees to gaze up into a movie screen on the opening night of the Ojai Film Festival.  It’s nothing short of magical.

The 7th Annual Ojai Film Festival runs October 12-15 and will screen more than 50 independent films in three venues over four days.  The festival presents a unique opportunity for locals and visitors alike to take in films ranging from student and first-time filmmaker screenings to films from Oscar-nominated veterans in a wide range of genres.  It’s also a chance for the community to mix with filmmakers at one of the many planned special events. 

It all starts on Thursday with an opening night community barbecue at the Art Center Theater followed by a free screening at Libbey Bowl of The Cave of the Yellow Dog, a narrative documentary – with real people based on real events.  Oscar-nominated director Byambasuren Davaa’s’s follow-up to the hugely successful The Story of the Weeping Camel “tells the story of the age-old bond between man and dog, a bond which experiences a new twist through the eternal cycle of reincarnation in Mongolia.”

“Sounds like Ojai, doesn’t it?” remarks the festival’s Artistic Director and Board President, Steve Grumette, referring to the more spiritual qualities our little town is known for. 

It was on a trip to Moab, Utah in 1998 to serve as a juror at the Canyonlands Film Festival that it first occurred to Steve to start a festival in Ojai.  “I thought to myself, if a small town in the middle of nowhere could do so well, it seemed to me Ojai could do it.”

Now in its 7th year, the non-profit festival has steadily gained in reputation as a place where emerging filmmakers can meet new audiences who know they have arrived at a small town festival with big time impact.  In fact, in recent years, more than a few have gone on to win Oscars, including local Bobby Houston’s documentary short Mighty Times: The Children’s March.  “Few festivals can claim such a high percentage of success,” Steve notes.

And just what is it about this annual festival that makes it particularly relevant to Ojai?  “Ojai is well-known as a center for culture and the arts, and film embodies all of the arts,” Steve explains.  “It’s an event that celebrates the only true new art form of the last hundred years.”

Following the Thursday special screening is a weekend jam-packed with films, seminars and special events.  One event in particular has the attention of the nation’s top film students.  The Panavision Into the Limelight Project was started last year and brings the nation’s top 10 graduating film students to network with industry professionals and showcase their work before a festival audience.  The young filmmakers will arrive by limo and have their thesis short films screened on Friday evening.  One student will be awarded with a Panavision $60,000 camera rental package.

On Saturday, the Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Laszlo Kovacs, foremost cinematographer of critically acclaimed films such as Easy Rider, Paper Moon, Shampoo and Miss Congeniality.  At 75, he is still working and going strong.  Laszlo will also present two seminars using 20-minute segments of his films to explain why you see what appears on the screen, providing keen insight into the filmmaking process. 

Sunday, the festival continues its outreach to youth with Teen Filmmakers in Action, coordinated by Ojai’s own John Zatkowsky a Nordhoff High School senior.  “It’s of, for and by youth,” explains the festival’s Executive Director, Maggie Wellman Cerminaro.

The festival’s theme is “enriching the human spirit through film,” and having waded through some 400 submissions, the cream of the crop will certainly be evident with films like The Trials of Daryl Hunt, the story of a man wrongfully convicted of rape and murder, and King Leopold’s Ghost, which details King Leopold II's colonial brutalities in Congo.  An animation festival will showcase the festival’s lighter side.  And there will be a local connection with a screening from one of AFI’s most recent graduates, Charlie McDowell.  His film, Bye Bye Benjamin, a comedy short about a ten-year-old business executive, stars Ojai residents Ted Danson and Charlie’s father, Malcolm McDowell.  And Danson’s wife, Mary Steenburgen, serves as one of the film’s executive producers.  “It’s our own offspring coming back to us!” Maggie beams.

So come rub elbows with luminaries in Ojai.  For more information, visit to get the full schedule, view film clips and to purchase tickets.

Published Fall 2006 in the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide.
The 9th Annual Oxnard Independent Film Festival will take place September 14-17 & 22-24 at Plaza Cinemas 14 Downtown Oxnard.  Locals Michael Anderson and Austen Collins of Extra Mile Productions and Lisa Snider of Finding Ojai will premier The Price of Paradise, a documentary about the challenges faced by Santa Barbara’s critical workforce as they grapple with not being able to afford to live in the community they serve. Snider produced, wrote and directed the film, and Anderson and Collins provided the cinematography and editing.  The 42-minute documentary will be screened Saturday, September 16 at   For more information visit