The Third Annual Topanga Film Festival was presented under a starlit sky, a rising moon and a shooting star. As hundreds watched from the Topanga Community House ball field, wrapped in blankets and warm clothing in the chill night air, a meteorite appeared from the northeast and streaked through the night sky in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. Surprised festival goers burst into applause as the shooting star disappeared over the horizon.
It was truly a Topanga experience at the Topanga Film Festival. Festival founders and directors Urs and Sara Baur were introduced by Master of Ceremonies Billy Portman, whose amusing observations before and after each of the 13 film entries kept the program moving. Urs Baur remarked on how far the festival had come from its first year in his backyard and apologized to filmmakers whose entries were not selected.
The Topanga Film Festival has the feeling of a homegrown festival welcoming the rest of Los Angeles as Topangans meet and greet each other. Doug Roy, a well known Topanga M.D., had his video camera set up and rolling to capture the essence of the event.
Of the festival’s 13 entries a number of films stand out for their originality and humanity. A Slow Day At Sportsman Lodge by Roger E. Brown presents a quiet and powerful drama set in an inner city barber shop. A teenager enters the barber shop with gun in hand, intending to rob the owner. What happens as the drama unfolds is a remarkable conversion as the would be robber is convinced by the barber to hand over his gun. We never see the barber but director Brown shows us photos of his customers and it is the strength of the barber’s convictions that ultimately helps the teenager to turn away from a criminal act.
Tom Hits His Head by Tom Putnam is a hilarious 10 minute film that includes rapid fire scenes of misfortune encountered by a hapless individual who has to endure all manner of trials and tribulations. In one of the most absurd and delightful encounters Tom meets the devil – appearing as a chubby doll’s body and a blazing red head with spikes. Everything that Tom does goes wrong and Putnam keeps the audience howling all the way.
2 Eylul (September 2nd), by director Emre Ergul, is a haunting film about a Turkish soldier who spends thirteen years in a room after his experience in the army. Ergul has constructed the story as a series of flashbacks moving from the present to the past. The main character goes back in time to a traumatic event during his army service. The images, editing and music introduce the viewer to a land that we attempt to comprehend. This 20 minute film demonstrates Ergul’s command of the medium and is a powerful debut film.
This year’s festival included a number of powerful dramatic short films by directors whose talents indicate they are clearly prepared for the challenge of a career in filmmaking.
Los Tabaqueros, a documentary entry directed by Russell Griffin and Frank Gonzalez, is an introduction to the work of Cuban-American cigar makers. The film makers present a fascinating look at the world of handmade cigars. The seven minute film takes us through all the steps of cigar making and shares in the pride of workmanship with music that is an effective counterpoint.
The festival’s final film, Passengers by J.T. Walker, was also one of the most affecting. What starts out with the image of a pigeon feather falling into a subway train develops into a tour de force as the feather brings together, however briefly, many of the train’s passengers. Falling on the head of a passenger who soon becomes aware that other passengers are staring at him, a feather is blown about the subway car. Walker brings anonymous passengers together by the feather’s movement. What a brilliant concept in light of the world’s hostile events.
After a brief deliberation the film festival’s jury announced their decision. The winner of the Coveted Coyote Award, handcrafted by local artist Terry Anderson, was T.J. Walker for Passengers. Walker will receive a Panavision New Filmmaker’s Award – $60,000 in film equipment rental. Jean Michel Crettaz, a Swiss architect/filmmaker who is head of the Softec Department at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, spoke for jury members. With Passengers, the issue is the love of humanism…it is wonderful to celebrate…” The festival’s Honorable Mention was Tom Hits His Head.