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Shorts and Docs: The Malibu International Film Festival:

>In the heart of Santa Monica’s trendy Montana Ave. shopping district an unlikely mix of cinephiles, young filmmakers and skateboard aficionados gathered at the Aero Theatre last Friday night to kick of the 7th International Malibu Film Festival (MFF). A searchlight, various press and TV reporters, and a long line of ticket holders lent a sense of pure Hollywood to the proceedings.

The MFF boasts an impressive list of corporate sponsors, Jaguar Cars and Gladstone’s restaurant to name a couple. Yet despite the presence of these many corporate entities, MFF certainly stayed true to its mission of bringing edgy, off-beat work into the mainstream. As is usually the case with film festivals big and small, the films varied in skill and execution.

Kicking off the festival at the Aero was Rising Son: The Legend Of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, directed by Cesario “Block” Montano. Rising Son chronicles the life and career of Christian Hosoi, who along with Tony Hawk, was one of the first true superstars of the skateboarding world. I must confess a certain ignorance regarding that sub-culture, one that began in the beach communities of Southern California and started a national craze in the early 80’s. As a young man, Hosoi’s acrobatic abilities on a skateboard were nothing short of awe-inspiring and his personal charisma and movie star good looks made for a fascinating human subject. Mr. Hosoi’s eventual downward spiral into drugs, his time served in prison and ultimate spiritual redemption are the stuff of a pure Hollywood bio-pic. Montano’s fine direction and the film’s brilliant editing, buttressed by a punk and rock soundtrack, in and of themselves defined the very rhythms of Mr. Hosoi’s tumultuous life.

The MFF’s screenings were split between the Aero and a makeshift theatre (The Jaguar Theater, of course) built in the parking lot of Malibu’s Cross Creek Mall. Christa McAulliffe: Reach For The Stars, a documentary about the heroic schoolteacher who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster was shown in the latter venue.

Although many documentarians would deny it, the same elements that draw an audience into a documentary are precisely the same elements necessary for a successful narrative film. The audience needs to care deeply about the central character(s); the character(s) need to face huge obstacles – internal ones created by their own nature, and more importantly, external ones which they must struggle to overcome (Hoops Dreams and Mad Hot Ballroom come immediately to mind). There is no such thing as “objective truth” in a documentary; every filmmaker has a point of view, even if that point of view changes or is indeed found during the process of making the film.

Christa McAuliffe’s life, at least in the hands of well-meaning filmmakers Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges, is problematic in terms of holding an audience’s attention. Why? Because Christa was, well, sort of perfect. A wonderful teacher, outspoken, yet considerate of others, generous to a fault, devoted to her family, friends and students…the list of her fine attributes is indeed a long one. The problem is her life, other than the Challenger tragedy, is inherently undramatic.

The filmmakers missed several key opportunities to make the film more compelling. There was very little NASA training, other than Christa having her characteristically good time. Also, scant attention was given to the post-disaster investigation and the seeming callousness of the government. Did Christa’s family fight for the truth? As presented it seems, although understandably devastated and angry, that her family stoically accepted the events and did little to uncover the truth.

On the whole, the film would be a fine choice for the Middle School educational market, but as a piece of mainstream filmmaking it had neither the riveting subject matter or the dogged determination of, say, Michael Moore, to get to the core of a tragedy made all the more unfortunate by the scandal that followed.

Of the many short films, two stood out: an animated version of The Tell Tale Heart, directed by Raul Garcia that used a recording of Bela Lugosi reading Poe’s psychological horror story. The super high-contrast black and white animation was spectacularly creepy, a cross between Frank Miller’s comic book art and the graphics of the 1920’s Russian avant-garde.

The other notable short was Initiation, directed by Michael Mohan and co-written by Mohan and Chris Goodwin. Initiation tells the story of a female college freshman’s return home after being the victim of a vicious college prank. The two female leads, Jordan Elliott and Jennifer Marley, were superb.

The MFF was a lot of fun, professionally produced and ambitious in scope. The festival is a true cultural touchstone in our community that deserves continuing support. For further information, go to www.malibufilmfestival. com.

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