Posts Tagged ‘San Diego Film Festival’

2019 Film Insider Series

May 21st, 2019 by Jeanne Ferris | No Comments | Filed in Jeanne Ferris

I love attending this monthly series at Arclight Cinemas. Hosted by San Diego Film Foundation, exclusive screenings of not yet released films can be previewed.

This month featured a drama written by playwright, JC Lee and co-written by Julius Onah (director).

The prescreening cocktail buzz is already rife with questions like, “Where is Eritrea?” and “I thought Tim Roth was American”. Over by the delicious fare from Eureka! The Melting Pot, Craft Pizza Co., and sliders from Liberty Call Distilling Co. was still more buzz: “I loved Octavia Spencer in “The Help and of course, the response, “Me too!” The cinephiles are talking about a Sundance Film Festival (SFF) indie: “Luce” (pronounced like loose) which is about an adopted former child soldier from Eritrea by a highly educated Caucasian couple and the challenges their son encounters in high school when his star student status is threatened.

“Luce” is starring Oscar nominee and a Boston Society of Film Critics Award nominee, Naomi Watts. Watts is also a Boston Online Film Critics Association winner for “Birdman” in 2014. With two homes on both LA and NYC, two passports (British and Australian), two children–it’s not hard to imagine Watts cast as a global thinker, who lovingly adopts a former child soldier with her husband.

Her screen husband is British subject and character chameleon, Tim Roth. They shared cinematic parental roles once before in the terrifying “Funny Games”. At the heart of “Luce”, former child soldier is played by New Orleans born, Kelvin Harrison. Harrison is no stranger to indie films as his last pic “Monster” won Grand Jury Prize in 2018.

On the FIS red carpet is wunderkind playwright, JC Lee. At 27, a Juilliard graduate with already a string of successful runs in equity theatres on both coasts, it’s easy to believe when he quotes Shakespeare as his muse, “He’s the ultimate bad-ass.”

San Diego’s own well respected, Old Globe, commissioned Lee’s world premiere, “What You Are” scheduled to begin on May 30, 2019. Jersey Shore-raised Lee and his Shakespearean devotion lends an exotic flavor to many meaningful subjects, which tonight will be fleshed out by an international cast and crew on the silver screen.

“Luce” is Lee’s first screenplay, which he co-wrote with Nigerian born, director, Julius Onah. Onah never saw “Luce” as a play but was encouraged to read Lee’s screenplay in 2014 by Imagine Entertainment and Brian Grazer. The rest as they say—is history. Both literally and figuratively.

Onah’s background is simpatico to Lee’s—Onah received his Bachelor’s in Theatre from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and his Masters in Fine Arts from Tisch, NYC where Onah continues to reside. Onah’s input for developing Harrison’s character was to suggest reading Frantz Fanon, a postcolonial thinker and psychiatrist. As a former high school debater, Onah put Harrison on the podium to help with Harrison’s dialect and posture. Harrison wrote the paper himself which he holds in the movie—Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer who plays his high school teacher, also read and graded it in actuality. Gives real meaning to method acting doesn’t it?

Afterward, SDIFF CEO and Executive Artistic Director, the gracious Madame Tonya Mantooth facilitated the Q&A with Lee who exuded a youthful candor about his inspiration for “Luce”.

“I relate to Luce in the sense I grew up as a mixed-race kid in New York,” Lee said. “I was in a weird gifted program and so I always felt that I was performing various roles for different people. I believe those characters knew what that pressure felt like.” In describing how his play became a film, Lee explains, “Julius harassed me for two years and basically I told him that films are never as good as the plays but in this case, I actually feel the film is better as a story.”

 By the way, for those wondering: Eritrea is in North East Africa which borders Sudan, Ethiopia, The Red Sea and the tip of Djibouti. All of these areas are politically hostile climates where only a handful of brave war correspondents dare to wander. No need for spoiler alerts—make sure this film makes it on the “family movie night” watch list for a lively debate. Take note: mature high school freshman and up only.

As always, the evening ended with a lively post champagne reception, more red carpet photo opps, Cookies by Cravory, and a fond good-night to all. See you next month!

Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr and Naomi Watts appear Luce by Julius Onah, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Larkin Seiple
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Questions that make you go, “Hmm”…

October 27th, 2015 by Jeanne Ferris | Comments Off on Questions that make you go, “Hmm”… | Filed in Jeanne Ferris

Opening night at the San Diego Film Festival this year screened the U.S. premiere of “Septembers of Shiraz” starring Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek, a story about a rich family (Brody plays an Iranian Jewish jeweler whose family and he become persecuted under the Ayotollah’s regime). This film for the record, was not my favorite—ever. It felt all the same—not enough shifts in the emotional tone of the story and frankly, the story despite the heavy subject of the very real persecution of Persian Jews in Iran was flat and unemotional for me. It was a lot of telegraphing by music and dialogue of what was to happen next and not enough showing.

The gorgeous Hayek was ill cast in my humble opinion. She did not feel authentic for me as a Persian Jew—her accent still sounded Mexican and her personality did not strike me as a 1970s Middle Eastern woman…and nothing pulled me out of the story faster than those four inch platform designer shoes while everyone was running around in flats on the dusty streets! And I am not talking Elton John platform (apropos for the ’70s —I am talking, ‘short woman complex with a lot of money I will tell the stylist what I want to wear platform shoes’.

Brody’s earnestness and commitment to the character couldn’t save it either. He didn’t seem comfortable in the role and therefore, neither was I comfortable for him.

Fifteen minutes into the movie, Hayek calls her husband, “Baby” and it rang so false, I cringed physically and for the rest of the film, it felt like watching a bad accident. I blame the director, Wayne Blair on this. He couldn’t hear this falsehood…and a few others?

Shohreh Aghdasloo was the only authentic quality in the film other than the perhaps, the Manischewitz (I presume) wine served at Shabbat. Even the location seemed less than par. I think everyone’s heart was in the right place with this story but unfortunately, it really was not only too long but dull performances and dull storytelling.

The Q & A afterward revealed a very shy Adrien Brody which Tonya Mantooth handled with her usual gracious and sensitive dexterity.

My favorite question that made me go, Hmmm—was from a man in the audience directed at Brody:

“Did you use a butt double for your naked scene?”

Well, you can imagine the laughter (relief from the film being over?) that ensued, myself included. Brody’s response was sincere flabbergastedness (I made this word up)…he couldn’t even answer and professed he didn‘t know how to. For the record, the naked scene was a torture scene of Brody in prison which even the torturing couldn’t elicit sympathy. Sigh. I really wanted to respect this film—but it simply couldn’t rise to the powerful true story of “12 Years a Slave” opening two years ago.

Actor Adrien Brody receiving the Cinema Vanguard award at the San Diego Film Festival Tribute










Geena Davis also at the Tribute receiving the inaugural Reframed Humanitarian Award

Social Justice Panel at Sparks Gallery – San Diego Film Festival

From left: Filmmakers, Thomas Morgan,  Hayley, Jack Robbins, Leslee Udwin, and Kweku Mandela

Someone in the audience asked if politicians were a good avenue for making change and Ms. Udwin answered they were a complete waste of time and the audience cheered and clapped. That was a question that made me go, ”Hmmm” because I disagreed and contemplated making the disagreement public and then…

The absolute perfect conflict was when Mr. Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s grandson) intervened vehemently by disagreeing and said that politicians were indeed a valuable resource and that they should always be held accountable for being part of any change for the better.

And I applaud his contention and say AMEN, brother!!

That’s all folks. Be well,


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Jason Segel is a funny yet serious…“superhero of a smaller country”

July 30th, 2015 by Jeanne Ferris | No Comments | Filed in Jeanne Ferris

Actor Jason Segel and eleven time Emmy winner, Tonya Mantooth, SDFF’s Director of Programming

In case you missed the memo, the San Diego Film Festival is here to stay and rocking the Casbah (or Arclight La Jolla in this case). The V.I.P. monthly screenings include a hosted bar, gourmet appetizers and an independent film screening. Which is usually followed by a Q & A with a cast member, director or writer from the film.

The final July screening was called, The End of the Tour, a Sundance Film Institute project.

This film is about a heretofore unpublished five day interview by Rolling Stone’s reporter, David Lipsky with novelist David Foster Wallace. This was an actor’s dream because the entire script was dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. With plenty of unspoken nuances between Jesse Eisenberg (playing Lipsky) and Segel (playing DFW). It was a very cerebral, intense two hours and thirty minutes. Do not expect Jurassic World nor Guardians of the Galaxy.

Speaking of…Segel willingly confessed when he was much younger, he used to playact so much, he once went to school with a Superman costume under his clothes. Apparently, he really, really wanted to be a superhero.

After sharing this story at a first time meeting with James Ponsoldt (director) and Eisenberg (and subsequently at the Q & A with us, the audience)—Well, Captain America, Segel self-admittedly is not—there was a small quiet pause and Eisenberg softly said, “You could be a superhero of a smaller country.”

Needless to say, Segel and Eisenberg got along famously.

Literally. And figuratively.

You can well imagine the hilarious uproar that ensued…it was a full house and superhero fun.

Come join the laughter at the Festival!  —j


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San Diego Film Festival is Coming!

June 22nd, 2015 by Jeanne Ferris | No Comments | Filed in Jeanne Ferris

Get your passes NOW!


Exciting international and national indie film submissions

are coming in fast and furious from:

  • Israel
  • Greece
  • India
  • Philippines
  • Los Angeles
  • New York

The above mentioned countries and cities are just to name a few. Over 2,000 submissions are being pared down to 100 as I write.

There have been eight films in the previous San Diego Film Festivals that were Oscar nominees (Wild and The Imitation Game –The Imitation Game was also a winner for Best Adapted Screenplay).

And the year before, an Oscar WINNER! (12 Years a Slave). It just keeps getting better and better.

Variety magazine (“the Industry’s” bible) has agreed to partner with SD Film Festival again. Guess what?!

That means more great parties, more movie stars, industry professionals AND…more great films.

See you on the Red Carpet,


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San Diego Film Festival 2014 Raises the Ante of Stardom with new sponsor, “Variety”

November 20th, 2014 by Jeanne Ferris | No Comments | Filed in Jeanne Ferris

The opening night premiere of “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon was sold out, standing room only at the San Diego Film Festival (SDFF). Screening was at Reading Theatres in the Gaslamp. An outstanding screenplay adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography about her solitary Pacific Crest Trail journey was excellently directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.

It is sure to garner Witherspoon an Oscar nomination for her commitment to roughing it in the woods.

The Pacific Crest Trail will never see the bottoms of my boots because having discovered a recent serious bee venom allergy—the great outdoors looks mighty different to me now.  Particularly, near wildflowers.

Every day of the festival offered world premieres and U.S. premieres of independent and studio pictures both at Reading and the Arclight theatre at UTC. Often, there would be such a conflict for me to choose which ones I could forego or not. Also, the Q & A after some of the screenings added depth and insight into the movies created.

One screening that stood out for me was “The Good Lie”. Amazing true story of former Sudanese child soldiers who came to America and asked for asylum.  Again, with Ms. Reese Witherspoon, playing comic foil to the tribulations of these Sudanese exiles.

Best party?

“The Chairman’s Reception” (chairman being Dale Strack of SDFF) at the gorgeous La Jolla Contemporary Museum (a star in its own right), a SDFF signature event titled, “Variety’s Night of the Stars” .

This event complete with red carpet and movie stars (see photos) honored the always funny and mostly grumpy, Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor and North County resident, Alan Arkin. He was present to recieve the Gregory Peck Lifetime Achievement Award which the event awards tributes to veterans in the business.

Jeffrey Lyon moderated and interviewed. Unfortunately, a rogue newscast overshadowed the audio of clips shown throughout the evening’s presentation.

His response when I asked Arkin who did he think was funny?

  • Eddie Izzard.
  • And some female, I never heard of: Maria Bamford (sp?).

Arkin said she was hilarious, and Izzard: brilliant.

Arkin’s favorite Gregory Peck movie was Arkin’s first film:

  • “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”.

Berenger was in town to present the Chris Brinker award to John Beaton Hill for his indie, “Wolves of Savin Hill” and a Q & A for “Bad Country”. This film was directed and produced by San Diegan Indie Chris Brinker who suffered a sudden demise a few years back and subsequently, the Chris Brinker award was created for indie directors.

Also on the Red Carpet… actors:

  • Eli Roth (Inglourius Basterds—he stole every scene he was in)
  • Tom Berenger (Rough Riders—also one of his favorite movies to make)
  • Michelle Monaghan (Fort Bliss)
  • Beau Bridges (Showtime’s Masters of Sex)
  • Alison Pill (HBO’s The Newsroom)
  • Saginaw Grant (an excellent feature! The World’s Fastest Indian)

Ms. Monoghan revealed she was five months pregnant while filming “Fort Bliss”, a film she is very proud to be a part of and was shocked at the prevalent sex abuse in the military. The film was made in 21 days.

I asked Mr. Bridges where he was putting his award (Cinema Vanguard) which he was receiving that night he quipped, “In the closet”. He said one of his favorite movies was “The Fabulous Baker Boys” which also starred his brother, Jeff Bridges. It is one of my all time favorites too. Love, love the music.

Good looker Josh Duhamel, deep velvet voiced Dennis Haysbert and kind Stelio Savante were in attendance at the Insider’s Panel which was moderated by the funny Jeffrey Lyons and his bright son, Ben Lyons . This was a sell-out event at the movie set of a nightclub, Vin De Syrah in the Gaslamp. Cleverly designed to resemble the underground where Alice fell into the hole, guests are always charmed by the whimsical interior.

Below: Dennis Haysbert being interviewed at “Syrah”.


Patti Judd, Dale Strack, Tom Berenger, Kevin Leap

Above photo:

Patti Judd SDFF VP, Dale Strack SDFF Chairman, Tonya Mantooth SDFF talented VP of Programming, actor Tom Berenger and lady friend, Kevin Leap SDFF President.

For all movie buffs, indie enthusiasts, or festing global travelers—San Diego is THE place to screen movies, party hard and play nice!

2014 Competition Award Winners:

  • Best Narrative Feature:  Where the Road Runs Out
  • Best Documentary:          Waiting for Mamu
  • Best International:           Schimbare
  • Best Narrative Short:       The Bravest and The Boldest
  • Best Animated Film:        Dam Keeper

2014 Audience Award Winners:

  • Best Gala Film                   The Imitation Game
  • Best Feature                        Cas & Dylan
  • Best Documentary             Waiting for Mamu
  • Best Short                             Sure Thing
  • Best International              Noble
  • Kumeyaay Award:             Sycuan: Our People, Our Culture, Our History
  • UT San Diego Award:      Where The Road Runs Out
  • Chairman’s Award:           The Hornet’s Nest

Well there you have it.  Next year, same sunny place—Get your tickets at

Best news of the week?

Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the San Diego Film Commission (SDFC) was going to be resurrected and that San Diego is including the SDFC in its budget. YIPPEE!! San Diego is back in the moviemaking biz. We are on the map.

Red Carpet photographs courtesy of the generous and amazing Suzette Valle of Hollyblogger and The Wrap. I bow to you.

Bad nightclub photograph of Dennis Haysbert with IPhone, yours truly.

Peace and may your Thanksgiving be filled with it,


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Festing at San Diego Film Festival

October 7th, 2013 by Jeanne Ferris | No Comments | Filed in Jeanne Ferris


Festing at San Diego Film Festival (SDFF)  felt like I took a vacation in my own town.

I got to:

  • preview a big Oscar contender, the harrowing and exhausting “12 Years as a Slave” (hated it but appreciated its objective)
  • spoke with Judd Apatow, a very funny director—I asked him if Brick (a character from Anchorman I) would ever pay for his crimes?  He answered, very good question and very good idea, but he wasn’t going to pay me for it.  Thank you for the good question, Sorensen, we can sue him for property rights together 🙂
  • took a photograph with a very influential man, Jeffrey Lyons, a New York movie critic, (not your usual movie star, but nevertheless, a well respected opinion)
  • met many creative and movie loving people at the V.I.P. lounges and Industry Panels
  • observed people observing actors who observed the cameras while walking the red carpet
  • AND  worked with other devoted volunteers who hope to see SDFF reach the same respected level of other international festivals such as the Toronto Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, the Tribecca Film Festival, etc.
  • made one good friend whom I will stay in touch with

Of course, there were some technical glitches like only half a reel was screened at the tribute for Judd Apatow, microphones faded out perpetually, misprinted theater locations and times, understaffing, but like all good recipes, each year should be better and better.  I believe the co-founders, Dale Strack and Tonya Mantooth have their hearts in the right place and deserve the support and applause for their gargantuan effort in producing this monumental event.

The V.I.P. lounges were packed  with beautiful people, wannabee movie stars, sponsors and “industry” professionals.  Industry is the word which is used for people who work in, with and around movie magic…even catering is fancily known as craft services.

A memorable image for me is when one particular young man did not move for a good half hour as he methodically stuffed his face over a communal trough of free sushi at the Bang Bang Club (opening night party).  Despite the throbbing, overly loud bass speaker, I overheard another gentleman yell, “Germs!” to his date with complete distaste and pulled her away to escape it all. Having not eaten since lunchtime and hearing Big Ben chiming 10:00 p.m. (really, just my stomach grumbling)—I, being known as the next paranoid Howard Hughes contender… threw caution to the darkness and timidly stuck my chopsticks into this germ ridden trough to skewer a tiny sushi roll.  I ended up sticking my fingers in it and popping in succession, about five pieces into my mouth because I couldn’t pick it up with sticks.  I guess I must have looked like the other guy who was still stuffing rolls as fast as he could before anyone else could get in front of him.

I also popped a Super Immunity vitamin when I got home after washing my hands in boiling hot water with lye.

The next starry night at the gorgeous venue, Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, I drank Northern California pinot noir and ate at the craft service table of the restaurant Amaya chefs and felt I had arrived at the right party.  To the tune of a single flamenco guitar, I chatted with sponsors, actors and filmmakers.  Tonight’s tribute was for Judd Apatow and following his receipt of  the Visionary Filmmaker Award, Apatow sat down with Jeffrey Lyon for an entertaining interview but not before the zealous and family unfriendly David Koechner profanely extolled Apatow’s directorship and comedic prowess—Koechner’s tribute sounded more like a roast than a toast.

The post reception offered pumpkin pudding mousse, key lime meringue cookie, and rich dark chocolates with white wine only for me (no red wine was allowed nor served inside the museum) with a full bar for the more intrepid drinkers.  The only stars I wanted to meet was a Native American and the Buddhist monk whose introduction was as the Peace Emissary of the Dalai Lama.  Twenty four old Justin Nappi received the Emerging Producer award and his parents were apparently friends of the Peace Emissary, so we all got a little Tibetan whirled peas as a result.

Jeez louise, Nappi only graduated in 2010 and he’s making movies like Arbitrage!

I just figured out I wanted to write my novel in 2010 after two kids and an almost film career as an actor in my 20’s.  It pays to set goals in the womb, I guess.

Screening after screening, I found myself sneaking my fancy multi-colored silk and satin covered hemmoriod pillow into the theater to offset all that sitting.  Shhh!  My glamour.  With my butter soaked popcorn (who cares, I’m not in front of the camera) and regular soda pop, (no diet for me, have you ever seen a skinny person order diet Coke or Pepsi?)…I am satiated with festing till next year’s festival.  Plus, I didn’t want my family to divorce me for staying out so much.

Till then, can’t wait.




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