My family and I love film festivals, but I never dreamed of staging one myself. That idea emanated from my daughter Jessie, who found a perfect partner in Stacy Howard. Together with Alice and me, they crafted a “dream weekend” for movie lovers, the kind of event we’d want to attend ourselves. We screened movies we wanted to bring to an audience that might have missed them the first time around. Thus was born MaltinFest.
We were fortunate to get great press coverage here in Los Angeles and the event was a success in every way. All through the weekend people came up to me asking, “How did I never know about this film before?”
On opening night, the audience embraced John Carney’s Sing Street as one, stayed through the closing credits in order to hear its wonderful songs reprised, then repaired to the courtyard of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre to drink “Maltinis” and talk about the film. People lingered and enjoyed each other’s company. This was Jessie’s greatest wish: to create a sense of community.
The filmmakers whose work we showed were incredibly supportive. Nicole Holofcener brought her star Catherine Keener for a showing of Please Give, which left me with tears in my eye just as it did the first time I saw it. Phil Rosenthal told stories about the aftermath of his hilarious documentary Exporting Raymond. Alexander Payne rounded up the troops for a showing of his little-seen first feature, the brilliant satire Citizen Ruth: star Laura Dern, costar Mary Kay Place, composer Rolfe Kent, editor Kevin Tent, and production designer Jane Ann Stewart. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski recounted the twelve-year journey that finally resulted in their terrific film Big Eyes. Maggie Greenwald was kind enough to loan us her personal 35mm print of my longtime favorite Songcatcher.
Our audience enjoyed two “live” podcasts: Doug Benson led an abbreviated version of Doug Loves Movies on opening night with comedians Amy Miller, Samm Levine, and me. We had a good time and Doug (who loves musicals) was happy to join me in touting Sing Street, which followed. On Sunday, Joe Dante and Josh Olson recorded an episode of The Movies That Made Me featuring yours truly as “me.” They asked me to recommend one movie from every decade starting with the 1920s and I had fun doing just that.
As an author, I know how difficult it is to promote your work. That’s why we welcomed eight friends to sign their books on Sunday morning while Alice led a Mother’s Day celebration. It was fun spending time with Tracey Goessel (The First King of Hollywood: Douglas Fairbanks), Robert Bader (Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage), Jon Burlingame (The Music of James Bond), Alicia Malone (The Female Gaze, Backwards and in Heels), George Geary (L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants), Chris Nichols and his wife Charlene (Walt Disney’s Disneyland), Kliph Nesteroff (Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy) and Don Hahn (Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Walt Disney’s Magical Mid-Century). It was a festive morning and we even sold some books! A huge thank you to our friends at Larry Edmunds Bookshop for making it happen.
For our grand finale, a hyperactive gorilla who bore a faint resemblance to Steve Gelder welcomed our biggest crowd yet for a screening of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences we were able to run a rare 35mm print donated to them by the Lugosi family. Children and grandchildren of the film’s producers Jack Broder and Maurice Duke were happy to be on hand, along with Dave Abremsen, who is writing a biography of Sammy Petrillo, the faux Jerry Lewis who starred in the picture. Fredde Duke even brought along a copy of the “cease and desist” order that producer Hal Wallis and Jerry Lewis issued to put this movie and its Martin and Lewis wannabes out of business. (Then they saw the picture and realized it wasn’t worth the trouble to bother with!)
Our audiences enjoyed the vintage trailers, cartoons and short subjects I programmed with our features, but none went over better than Shaw and Lee in The Beau Brummels (Vitaphone, 1928). This is vaudeville comedy at its best, still funny after more than ninety years. We’re grateful to the Academy, Warner Archive, Paramount, Universal, and UCLA Film and Television Archive for making all of our “bonus material” available.
Staging an event like this requires friends who are willing to pitch in and help. We couldn’t have been luckier. Lilly Holden, Julia Marchese, Grae Drake, Steve Gelder, Jen Ortega, Cara Mandel and Cameron Rice came through for us with flying colors. We couldn’t have put on our show without them.
We also wanted to showcase some of our friends’ work: Krysten Dornik of Krysten’s Kitchen is on a mission to educate people about food and persuaded sponsors to donate healthy snacks. She was uncommonly generous with her time and energy, and her husband Jeff was unfailingly good-natured no matter what task we threw in his direction.
Mauricio Alvarado, owner of Rockin Pins, displayed his impressive array of licensed enamel pins and debuted a brand-new pin at MaltinFest: Max Fleischer’s Koko the Clown! He attracted many new customers in our lobby over the weekend. Jeanine Brice was also on hand displaying her beautiful artwork, and making new friends in the process.
We also lucked out when it came to lining up sponsors. Without the generosity of Bainbridge Island Performing Arts, The Hollywood Museum and its founder Donelle Dadigan, Louis Black Productions, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Turner Classic Movies, Alamo Drafthouse, the Film Preservation Society, Scum & Villainy Cantina, and Richard Kraft we wouldn’t have had a show to put on. Our guests enjoyed food and drink the Frank Buxton Lounge, named for my lifelong friend who was not only a talented man but a major movie devotee.
Alice, Jessie and I count MaltinFest a complete success in that we achieved all of our goals: we showed good movies we love to people who hadn’t seen them before, brought film buffs together and sparked friendships in the process. What more could we ask?
People are already inquiring if there will be a MaltinFest 2. You bet there will!