Catalina Island News

2nd Annual Catalina Film Festival Delivers Top Films, 2,000 Moviegoers

Catalina Film Festival

“It’s fitting that we’re here together tonight in this beautiful Casino Theater where, over the years, some of Hollywood’s most memorable films were seen going back to the silent film era!” said Blanny Avalon Hagenah in her enthusiastic welcome to a crowd of more than 500 people who gathered for the opening event of the Second Annual Catalina Film Festival this past weekend.

Festival-goers shared Hagenah’s enthusiasm about the Festival, which, with a red-carpet roll-out Friday night, harkened back to the glamour and glitz that the Island enjoyed in the decades after the very first movie was made on location here a century ago. An impressive 120 filmmakers from eight countries gathered for the Festival in Avalon to showcase their work, including cinema icons such as Oscar-nominated Mark Rydell, director of “On Golden Pond,” starring Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn; and “The Rose,” starring Bette Midler, and “James Dean,” in which he discovered and helped earn James Franco a Golden Globe.

Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel Comics who created or co-created the brand’s most famous superheroes graced the event, and drew crowds wherever he went. Both Rydell and Lee greeted their fans with pleasure, signing hundreds of autographs.

The long-awaited “The Avengers” motion picture, based on Lee’s characters including Iron Man, The Hulk, and others, debuted at the Casino Theatre on Friday night—the same day the movie was released nationwide. Lee himself was on stage to introduce the film to a packed house.

Lee received the Ronald Reagan Foundation’s “Great Communicator Award,” while Rydell received the Catalina Film Festival’s “Career Tribute Award.”

Other celebrities in attendance included Rachael Leigh Cook with her Los Angeles Premiere of “Broken Kingdom;” Scott Thompson from “Kids In The Hall,” James Scott from “Days of Our Lives” (who also presented a Centennial award), Adam Sinclair (who’s film won Best Feature), Judith Shekoni from the anticipated “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2,” and many others.

Discussion panels on the future of the film industry were sold out. They were filled with A-list directors, writers, animators, producers and talent managers who were available to give advice to attendees, including industry veterans and hopefuls. The panel "Storytelling in New Media," with panelists writer/producer Mike Rotman, Lionsgate New Media producer Alex Barkaloff, and "Secret Handshake" owner Dena Hysell, moderated by IndieCon Chairman Marc Clebanoff, was packed with information that thrilled and inspired attendees.

The animation panel "From the Page to Screen Adaptation," was moderated by Golan Ramas, VP at Hero Pictures, with panelists including Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist, screenwriter, novelist and illustrator, Berkeley Breathed, Dreamworks producer Alex Schwartz, producer/talent manager Fonda Synder, producer Joe Lefavi and writers Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich who delighted attendees with creative ideas for approaches to presenting their next project.

Since 1912 with the filming of the silent “Man’s Genesis,” directed by D.W. Griffith, the Island has provided its unique backdrop for more than 150 movies, and countless videos, television shows, and commercials.

Hagenah said she remembers how her great grandfather, William Wrigley Jr., embraced the Hollywood crowd, who would either come to the Island to work, or to simply get away from clamoring fans. She recalled as a child being bounced on John Wayne’s knee. “I think some people have forgotten how connected Catalina’s history is to Hollywood and filmmaking,” she said.

Mayor Bob Kennedy said he was highly supportive of the Film Festival and its companion offering, the Catalina Film Society, for its monthly screenings for residents and visitors alike. “Anything we do to draw more people to the Island is good,” Kennedy said. “I look forward to next year’s Film Festival.”

The throng of filmmakers, studio executives and movie fans swarmed through Avalon beginning Thursday evening, dining out, shopping, and some searching for locations from films they knew had been shot on the Island. A new wave came in Saturday, one couple commenting they would have come for the full event but “the Island seems to be sold out!”

Steve Bray, owner of Steve’s Steakhouse and co-owner of the Dockside Café said he recognized Film Festival name badges on many of his customers who told him that they were ecstatic to come to Catalina for the event. “The town was dressed up,” he said. “The Catalina Film Festival brought a lot of business to my establishment. And, they spent a lot!” he said, adding that “everyone was very nice.”

During the event, the Glenmore Plaza Hotel—which, at 120 years old, pre-dates movie history on the Island (it’s the second oldest hotel in California)—was transformed into the Film Festival’s Box Office and VIP Lounge. Glenmore owner Jim Amoroso said the event was a great addition. “We are all learning what a Film Festival is,” Amoroso said. “Filmmaking is part of our heritage here on Catalina. It’s important to keep this history fluid with today’s visitors. There is a true connection between Catalina and Hollywood.”

At the Hotel Metropole, owner Gregg Miller said he was excited that the Catalina Film Festival is developing into what could become a major annual event on the Island. “There were quite a few people from the Festival staying at the Metropole, and there was a lot going on – but, I can’t argue with a lot going on,” he said.

Sean Brannock, Avalon’s Director of Recreation and director, producer and writer for the Catalina Youth Arts Exchange Kids at Play, Children’s Theater Company, said he enjoyed seeing many of the feature films. “It was a lot of fun, really enjoyable.” Brannock predicted big things for the future: “Catalina is a perfect backdrop for this event. It is far away, but close enough to Hollywood. Top notch.”

Ann Muscat, CEO and President for the Festival for which the Conservancy is beneficiary, lauded Ron Truppa, the Festival’s founder and director, for helping to support the protection and restoration of 88 percent of Catalina Island. “Fulfilling that responsibility takes an extremely dedicated staff, Board, volunteers and frankly, a lot of money,” she said. “The Conservancy is very honored to be the beneficiary of this very exciting event.”

Summed Hagenah, “Were my great-grandfather alive today, I think he would approve of how the Catalina Film Festival is reviving the exciting connection to Hollywood. And I would add my approval, and my thanks to Ron and his team for all their efforts!”

Truppa was thrilled with the quality of the films, the turnout, and the support of his volunteer staff and the Avalon community. “I know that many people in Avalon are familiar with the challenges of launching any event, let alone one with the added logistical challenges of Catalina,” he said. “I am so very appreciative to everyone who has entrusted our world-class veteran team of film festival organizers and lent their support, from our many event partners to the Chamber, Glenmore, Dockside Café, Island Company, Avalon High School, and the Conservancy!”

Truppa said that he and crew have “exciting plans for the coming year,” including the launch of a Film Institute in November, and some “big announcements for the 2013 Catalina Film Festival that we are currently finalizing.” He noted that while its tough to gain Hollywood’s support for new film festivals, he couldn’t be more pleased with progress to date.

“In just two years, we have already surpassed in terms of participation from the Hollywood community, general attendance and online viewership, what it’s taken many film festivals to do in five years.”

At more than 2,000 attendees to the Festival, attendance doubled from its inaugural first year. A firm hired to stream Festival events online reported that viewership soared from 70,000 last year to more than 200,000 this year. According to a formula provided by the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce, revenues generated for Avalon businesses including hotel rooms, boat tickets, dining, shopping and related attractions and visitor services exceeded $500,000, twice last year’s estimated contribution to the local economy.

“The success of the Festival has clearly been due to our many supporters and partners in Avalon, and our veteran executive board with more than 75 years of collective experience and contacts on the circuit,” Truppa said. “It’s exciting to be a part of reconnecting Catalina to its Hollywood roots, and seeing it shine in the world spotlight.”

And the Winners Are…
Among award winners at the Festival was Avalon resident Scott Dennis, along with his writing partner, Monika Henning, who resides in Hawaii. The two won the Avalon Screenplay Award for “Fire and Rain” – a supernatural thriller about a young historian who uncovers a covert conspiracy surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“This the first time Monika and I have ever walked this out to the world,” Dennis said. “It was very gratifying that these professional readers thought our screenplay had merit,” he said. “This has been a seven-year part-time project.”

Catalina Film Festival First-Place Winners
Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Award – Stan Lee
Majestic Award – “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story,” directed by Terry Dougas, Nikki Frakes and Will Hess
Best Feature Film – “Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy,” directed by Roy Heydon
Best Animated Film – “Thumb Snatchers from the Moon Cocoon,” directed by Brad Schaffer
Best Documentary – “Sunset Strip,” directed by Hans Fjellestaf
Best Short Film –“Trotteur,” directed my Arnaud Brisebois and Francis Leclerc
Best Screenplay Award – “Boarders,” by “Skip” Harold Clark
Catalina Island Conservancy Isla Earth Award of Excellence – “Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist,” directed by Peter Jay Brown
Catalina Island Conservancy Isla Earth Award of Merit – “Rock the Boat,” directed by Thea Mercouffer
Career Tribute Award – Mark Rydell