October in Ojai means it’s time for seasonal colors, local harvests and the Ojai Film Festival. Now in its 12th year, the festival has not only become an annual fall ritual for film lovers in Ventura County, but also for the many who travel from L.A. and Santa Barbara to attend. It’s a chance to enjoy some mountain scenery, rub shoulders with an occasional celebrity, and, of course, feast on a digital cornucopia of films — 77 of them this year.

Speaking of digital, founder and artistic director Steve Grumette has some good news: this year the Ojai Film Festival will be on the cutting edge of technology.

“Most filmmakers nowadays submit their films on five or six different media,” said Grumette.

Typically, festivals must use playback decks to handle the various formats, and until recently, the Ojai Film Festival would transfer everything to DVD. This year organizers are taking it a step further by upgrading to Blu-ray.

Ambitious? Yes, and difficult, considering the fluctuating state of video viewing for the average viewer.

“Until about a year ago,” said Grumette, “there was no convenient way to do that. The process was complicated — about 10 hours of transfer and rendering time for a two-hour disc.”

According to Grumette, Roland, an electronics manufacturer, now has a device that will take any video format and convert it to any other digital format, and JVC has a Blu-ray recorder device that will take any firewire source and burn it to Blu-ray.

The equipment is expensive, but thanks to some cooperative efforts by the festival, Roland, and JVC, Grumette plans to show every screening this year in Blu-ray and high def.

“I think we’re probably the only film festival at this point that’s doing this,” he said.

Nice equipment, great visuals, but what about the films? This year’s slate is larger than usual because the festival has received a huge influx of short films as well as the standard documentaries and features. Here are some highlights:

Student films

2Cohetes (2010, USA, Director: Mary Gillen, 13 min.) This student film takes place on the Fourth of July in suburban New York, where a young Mexican woman would like to fit in. What she finds is that her newfound independence is more complex than she imagined. Working at a deli serving coffee, selling beer and cleaning up after revelers, she considers an invitation to join a party from which she feels excluded.

1The Confession (2010, U.K., Director: Tanel Toom, 28 min.) For those who enjoy the metaphysical, consider another student film, this one Oscar-nominated and winner of the 2010 Student Academy Awards® – Honorary Foreign Film. A young boy preparing for his first confession worries that he has no sins to report. To aid his cause, he enlists a friend’s help in committing one. But their innocent prank turns tragic and the boy must now face his first true confession with a very guilty conscience. Will he or won’t he tell the truth?

Oscar contenders

3Ana’s Playground (2011, USA, Director: Eric D. Howell, 20 min.) Four children are playing soccer in a war-torn, ravaged neighborhood on the only playground they have. After Ana loses their soccer ball over enemy lines, she unintentionally begins a game of cat and mouse with a sniper. The dangerous reality of their everyday lives soon kicks in as she must scramble to retrieve the ball and stay alive.

gThe Gruffalo (2009, U.K., Directors: Jakob Schuh and Max Lang, 27 min.). Beautifully animated film based on the classic picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It’s a magical tale of a very hungry mouse in search of food. The mouse takes a stroll through the woods and encounters three predators who wish to eat him: a fox, an owl and a snake. See how the plucky mouse uses his wits to survive.

Documentary

22Two Spirits (2009, USA, Director: Lydia Nibley, 76 min.) One of the most thought provoking and disturbing documentaries on the slate, it’s the true story of Fred Martinez, a teenage Navajo boy with a feminine nature. In an earlier era among his fellow Navajo, he would have been revered for this special gift. Not in Colorado. Instead, he was brutally murdered by a white boy while walking home one night from a carnival. Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss with a revealing look at a cultural heritage that embraces the freedom to be our truest selves.
Fringe

uUnicorn City (2011, USA, Director: Bryan Lefler, 101 min.) When was the last time you saw a movie about fantasy gaming? The full-length feature is part comedy, part romance and part fantasy gaming weirdness. After interviewing for a gaming-related job, a devoted gamer decides to prove his leadership ability to his potential employer by convincing his friends to follow him into the wilderness to set up a gamers’ utopia.

Tongue-in-cheek

unThe Making of Plus One (2009, USA, Director: Mary McGuckian, 93 min.) It’s always a treat to watch filmmakers make fun of themselves. So much hype and glory. So much smoke and mirrors. Such is the case with a frenetic tongue-in-cheek look at the independent film industry. A hopeful director and a conniving producer skip through a variety of meetings at the Cannes Film Festival trying to finance their picture with nothing but lies. It pokes more than a little fun at the fads and celebrity obsessions that fuel modern-day filmmaking.

The festival is not only about film viewing, it will also include plenty of workshops and panel discussions about filmmaking.

“I’m excited about the caliber of industry filmmakers that are coming to speak on the panels,” said executive director, Jamie Fleming. “No matter if you are a filmmaker or someone who just enjoys films, you will find it fascinating to hear their stories.” Keeping with its commitment to remain true to its Ojai roots, this year the festival has made great efforts to be a one-stop shop. You can spend the day in Ojai, park downtown and walk to any of the four festival venues: the Ojai Playhouse, the Ojai Art Center, Theater 150 and Chaparral Auditorium. “I think this festival is growing into an Ojai-centric experience,” noted Fleming.   

For more information about tickets and scheduling, go to www.ojaifilmfestival.com. Tickets may also be purchased onsite just prior to any screening.