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Launching A Film Festival—In Style

It takes a lot of work to run, let alone launch, a film festival, but this past weekend the Coronado Island Film Festival made its debut and scored a remarkable home run. I was asked to be honorary jury chair, but my actual role was host/figurehead and while I worked hard I had a great time, as did my wife. There is a lot of hometown pride in this community, just across the bay from San Diego, and with good reason. It’s an idyllic place with lovely weather and a lot of history. The locals sponsored events, volunteered, and turned out for screenings and panels in large numbers. You could feel the enthusiasm in the air.

Film buffs may know Coronado best as the location of two notable movies: Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot and Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man. On Sunday afternoon I hosted a screening of The Stunt Man at the island’s beautifully refurbished art deco Village Theater with writer-director Richard Rush, leading man Steve Railsback, and stuntman/actor Chuck Bail, all of whom had great stories to tell. Then late Monday afternoon Jack Lemmon’s son Chris and I introduced a showing of Some Like it Hot outdoors on the beach in front of the historic Del Coronado Hotel where the movie was shot. What a treat!

In between, the festival spotlighted 85 short subjects, feature films, and documentaries, programmed by savvy producer and co-executive director Andy Friedenberg, who for 32 years has run the thriving San Diego Cinema Society. The two women who were the driving force of this endeavor, President and CEO Mary D. Sikes and the indefatigable Founder and Executive Director Doug St. Denis, couldn’t have chosen a better person to help them work with studios, distributors, and filmmakers. In fact, every filmmaker I spoke to was delighted with the attendance and feedback at their screenings.

Stuntman Steve Railsback, Richard Rush, Chuck Bail

A reunion of “The Stunt Man” team: actor Steve Railsback, writer-director Richard Rush, stuntman-actor Chuck Bail (Leonard Maltin)

For opening night, the Walt Disney Company offered a perfect selection:The Finest Hours, a true-life Coast Guard rescue story that opens in theaters on January 29. Coronado has a major military presence with a U.S. Naval Base, and the local Coast Guard Sector provided a Color Guard for the screening, which couldn’t have gone better. A full house stayed put for a q&a I conducted afterwards with director Craig Gillespie and producer James Whitaker.

Sunday morning, DreamWorks Animation enabled the festival to present a sneak preview of Kung Fu Panda 3 preceded by a sweet video greeting from its star, Jack Black.

And that’s just the beginning. Saturday morning I led a “Meet the Critics” panel featuring my esteemed colleague Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal and three well-known San Diego reviewers: Anders Wright of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Josh Board of Fox Channel 5 and KOGO-AM, and Diana Saenger, founder of the San Diego Film Critics Society. We were delighted with the turnout and the intelligent questions that were posed to us.

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I was happy to chair an animation panel with “Home” director Tim Johnson, his producer Suzanne Buirgy, and “Inside Out” producer Jonas Rivera (Alice Maltin)

Later that day, I chaired an animation panel that featured Jonas Rivera, a Pixar veteran who started out by sweeping the office floors and is now the Oscar-nominated producer of Inside Out, and DreamWorks Animation director Tim Johnson and producer Suzanne Buirgy, whose most recent film is Home (which was screened on Sunday morning). These good people brought PowerPoint presentations to explain how they do what they do, and why it takes so long to craft a really good animated feature. I wish I had a video of this conversation I could share with you all; it was that good. (I’d never met Tim Johnson before but I’ve enjoyed his work for years; he directedOver the Hedge and the underrated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. As for Jonas, he’s not only a lovely guy but has a strong local connection: he got married on Coronado Island!)

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Festival founder Doug St. Denis with Chris Lemmon; note the lovely photo of Chris and his dad Jack on the screen behind them. (Leonard Maltin)

The charming Chris Lemmon treated festivalgoers to his one-man showA Twist of Lemmon, in which he channels his famous father. Later this spring he’ll be performing the show on the West End in London and is aiming of off-Broadway after that. It’s a candid valentine to an actor we all admired and loved.

Another famous family was well represented as Rory Flynn, accompanied by her son Sean, reminisced about her famous father Errol and introduced a screening of the 1941 movie Dive Bomber, which was filmed at the Coronado Island Naval Base.

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Sean Flynn, his mother Rory (Errol’s daughter) and filmmaker Richard Rush attended Chris Lemmon’s performance on Sunday. (Leonard Maltin)

         Award-winning producer Laurens Grant was honored with screenings of her documentaries Freedom Riders, Jesse Owens, and the latest, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which tied into Monday’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A moving celebration of music and words took place in the elegant Edwardian music room at the former mansion-home of sugar magnate John Spreckels, now the Glorietta Bay Inn. (As it turns out, the gracious general manager of that hotel, Claudia Ludlow, can trace her African-American family’s residence on the island to the year 1919.)

Andre Zotoff, general manager of the Hotel Del Coronado, not only stepped up to bat as the festival’s Presenting Sponsor and generously provided accommodations but appeared in a student-made film calledDaydream Hotel, which is the first movie to be shot on the property in decades. Anyone who didn’t know that he rides a motorcycle around the island is certainly now aware: his image appeared in the official Festival trailer that preceded every screening.

I’m sorry I don’t have time to mention every film and guest who made this weekend so special and enjoyable, but I do want to cheer on Mary Sikes, Doug St. Denis, and Andy Friedenberg and hope they will continue to stage this event for many years to come. They’re certainly off to a great start.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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