The Ojai Film Festival is returning for its 13th season, which runs from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1, and this year it is safe to say that the festival is going green. That’s because executive director Jamie Fleming has been busy lining up a series of environmental films that he calls Focus Earth. “It’s the first year we’ve done Focus Earth, but it fits in with the theme of the festival itself, which is Enriching the Human Spirit,” said Fleming.
The series kicks off Friday night with a showing of Minds in the Water hosted by the Saltwater Collective. Minds in the Water is a feature-length documentary following the quest of professional surfer Dave Rastovich and friends to protect dolphins, whales and the oceans they share. Through Rastovich’s five-year adventure from Australia to the Galapagos, Tonga, California, Alaska and Japan, the film tracks his quest to activate his community to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants from the threats of commercial slaughter and pollution. It will be followed by a Q&A session.
On Saturday afternoon, the festival will feature raw footage from a film by MacGillivray Freeman Films, known for such IMAX classics as Everest and The Living Sea. The film includes scenes shot by the filmmakers during their travels around the world for their One World One Ocean campaign, a 10-year multiplatform media campaign aimed at changing the way people see and value the ocean.
On Sunday afternoon, a special screening of the film Chasing Ice will be hosted by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. This film has been garnering numerous film festival awards for its documentation of a scientist’s efforts to film the changing dynamics of the world’s ice flows using time-lapse cameras.
In addition to its environmental focus, the festival is also crammed with its usual array of short films, features, documentaries, workshops and 57 entries for the film competition.
The kickoff event is a free screening of the Beatles’ remastered classic Yellow Submarine, which will be shown Thursday night at the Libbey Bowl.
Some other film highlights include thought-provoking short features like Raju, a German film about a couple who adopts a boy from an orphanage in Calcutta. As it turns out, neither Raju nor the orphanage are what they appear to be.
British actor John Hurt is featured in the short narrative Love at First Sight, which tells the story of an elderly man in a retirement community who falls head over heels for one of the community’s new ladies. What’s unique about this? Call it a touching case of déjà vu.
For narrative features, the festival has slated award-winning films like Chinese Take-Away, a story about a unique friendship between a lonely hardware store owner in Buenos Aires and a Chinese man whom the store owner meets when the man is thrown out of a cab at the airport. This film was awarded Best Actor and Best Film in 2011 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina.
There are also plenty of documentaries such as Happy, a film by Roko Belic, director of the Academy Award-nominated Genghis Blues. Belic travels from the bayous of Louisiana to the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa in search of an answer to what makes us happy. Belic will be attending the screening.
If you’re a fan of ’60s surf culture, you will enjoy Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story, which explores the life of Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, whose childhood exploits in the 1950s in Malibu were captured in the pop-culture Gidget franchise with a book, films and TV show. Zuckerman will be attending a surf-themed reception following the screening and will be doing a book signing.
The idea for the Ojai Film Festival began in 1998 when artistic director Steve Grumette attended an independent film festival in Moab, Utah. “On the way back,” he says, “I started thinking that if this little town — literally in the middle of nowhere — could have this little boutique film festival, why couldn’t we have one in Ojai, which is only 75 miles away from the filmmaking capital of the world?”
Since the festival launched in 2000, it has grown and taken on more of a local flavor. “It’s become more and more an Ojai festival,” says Fleming. “That’s one of the calling cards of why people come. You can park your car, walk to see the films and enjoy the benefits of downtown.”
Grumette is happy that the small idea he had while traveling back from the Utah desert has taken root. “It’s extremely gratifying to know that we’re supporting the work of young filmmakers throughout the world and giving them an opportunity to have their work seen by an appreciative audience.”
For more information, including schedules about the Ojai Film Festival and special screenings and tickets, visit www.ojaifilmfestival.com.