June 22, 2018

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit



Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

They may have called it a transition year, but founders Urs and Sara Baur with new director Jon Fitzgerald (all standing outside the Topanga Library venue) pulled off a well-balanced, thought-provoking Festival.

The 8th annual Topanga Film Festival convened from July 26-29 in the heart of the Canyon at the Topanga Library, Theatricum Botanicum, Canyon Gallery and Inn of the Seventh Ray.

By all accounts, the 2012 Festival was a complete success with capacity audiences filling the venues during each of its four festival days.

According to co-founder Urs Baur, this was a transition year for the Topanga Film Festival and the newly formed Topanga Film Institute as it handed over control to Jon Fitzgerald as the festival director through 2014.

Baur said that while the future festivals will keep the same vision, they will not grow bigger but instead, “grow deeper with a greater focus on quality.”

“While we marvel at how this fest, with its humble beginnings in our backyard, has grown into a little gem of a Festival with

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Anastasia Fite who showed-off this seat from an old chair lift had her own festival events at Red Handed that featured music and a retrospective of past festival standouts.

international reach and world-class programming, it has become increasingly evident that this idea has grown too big to be managed and run by a loyal family of volunteers (and I use family quite literally), all of whom have many other responsibilities we’re pursuing in our ‘other lives,’” Baur wrote in the program notes.

Speaking of this year’s format, Fitzgerald said there was no competition or awards ceremony among the crop of the world-class films that he personally curated.

“While there is no overall focus, each day has its own theme depending on the types of films chosen,” Fitzgerald said. “Every film is already a winner.”

Baur said that screening the films at the Library instead of venues around the Canyon made it easier for audiences to plan their participation.

It also allowed Festival-goers to participate in the amazing meet-and-greet cocktail parties held at the Canyon Gallery and hosted by Barefoot Wine prior to each evening’s screenings.

Throughout the Festival, the Canyon Gallery collected donations

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Throughout the Festival, the Canyon Gallery collected donations of non-perishable food items to benefit the Topanga Womenís Circle.

of non-perishable food items to benefit the Topanga Women’s Circle.

Festival patrons also enjoyed pre- and post-festival dining at the Canyon Bistro, who hosted Saturday’s after-party with appetizers and their yummy mac and cheese.

As a satellite site, each evening, proprietor Anastasia Fite’s RedHanded Artisan Shoppe joined in the Festival with live music and holistic participation in their eclectic artists’ enclave and offered live silk-screening of the iconic coyote logo on donated tee shirts and showed short films from Topanga Film Festivals past.


Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

On the Theatricum stage, Topangan Kyle Ruddick talked about the monumental task of compressing 3000 hours of footage from every corner of the world -all shot on October 10, 2010 (10, 10, 10) - into the glorious documentary One Day on Earth which opened the Festival.

The Theatricum Botanicum hosted the opening night event, beginning with a meet-and-greet reception featuring tasty finger food and music by Kyle Ruddick and friends.

Soon after, the house filled to capacity with Topangans and out-of-towners eagerly anticpating the evening’s epic film, One Day on Earth.

The lights dimmed, the music changed, and Topanga Tribe belly dancers wafted onto the stage in front of the screen and presented an unexpected and stunning performance.

The ‘time capsule’ film was created from 3,000 hours of collected footage by amateur videographers around the world on Oct. 10, 2010, and compiled and edited by Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman, two graduates of the University of Southern California.

Topanga resident Ruddick said he came up with the idea of documenting the world on a single day after watching various sonic styles mingle at a world music festival.

“It means so much to be at the Topanga Film Festival not only because it’s home to many of the creative people that made this massive undertaking possible, but because the Festival embodies the community-building power that movies have on our lives,” Ruddick wrote in the film notes.

In retrospect, Baur said, “Opening Night at the Theatricum was

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Topanga Tribe belly dancers performed at the Thursday Theatricum opening before the screening of the epic documentary, One Day on Earth.

very special. Seeing it filled to the gills, buzzing with a sense of anticipation, was a truly rewarding experience and left me confident that the Festival has found its place in this community and will have a very bright future.


Friday’s theme was 100 years of dance with a series of curated short films presented indoors and outdoors at the Topanga Library. Starting at 2 p.m. they screened the classic, Singin’ in the Rain to celebrate its 60th anniversary to a sold- out audience.

Then it was Strictly Ballroom (1992), followed by eleven short dance films curated by Cari Ann Shim Sham and screened to a


Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Melissa Licker and Stephen Ravitz of West Los Angeles enjoyed the ambience at the Canyon Gallery sunset reception at the Topanga Film Festival Happy Hour.

capacity audience at the Topanga Library.


On Saturday, we ran into Festival first-timers Stephen Ravitz and Melissa Licker from West Los Angeles, who, urged on by Topanga poet Phillip D’Arbanville, attended the sunset wine and cheese reception at the Canyon Gallery.

Ravitz and Licker said they were fully entranced by Topanga with all of its charm, resolving to look into, perhaps, moving here.

Saturday evening started with The Welcome that “offers a fiercely intimate view of life after war: the fear, anger and isolation of post-traumatic stress that affects vets and family members alike,” said the film notes. “As we join these vets in a small room for an unusual

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Silk screener J.P. Nielsen of Level Press silk-screened the iconic Festival coyote onto anything and everything at the Thursday Theatricum opening.

five-day healing retreat, we witness how the ruins of war can be transformed into the beauty of poetry.”

Then it was time for the outstanding feature film, This Narrow Space. Shot on location in Detroit, Beirut and Cairo, this remarkable and innovative film sets out to tell the story of brotherhood, and ends up speaking volumes to how those connections can change the ways in which we view the world.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Ashland Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize, Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Indie Spirit Award at the Naples International Film Festival.

The evening’s final offering was Moving On, where a young American family decides to risk everything, quit their dream job and move to Uganda in hopes of adopting and making a difference. Moving On was voted Best Documentary at the Julien International Film Festival.


Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

Kathy Zuckerman (right), the subject of the documentary: Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story was on hand to sign books at the Topanga Library where the film was screened.

A light and vibrant ocean theme, “Sea and Sensibility,” was demonstrated in the inspirational documentary, Minds in the Water. Then it was the story of the iconic real surfer girl, Gidget, in Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story.

One cool detail was the Festival’s chief projectionist and crewmember, William Preston Bowling, who said two songs from his surf-rock band, CHUM, were chosen for the Gidget documentary.

“Sunday was great,“ he said. “It was sold out and Kathy [Zuckerman], the real Gidget, met with Festival-goers and signed her book.”

Sunday night’s closing party was held at The 1909,

Film Festival Captures Topanga Spirit

After screening the documentary, which was a glimpse into 1950ís surf culture, Zuckerman answered questions along with filmmaker, Brian Gilogly.

a new community venue, that joined the Topanga Chamber of Commerce, Barefoot Wines, Stella Artois and Reed’s Original Ginger Beer in sponsoring the event.

“This year,” Baur observed, “we found the right balance of screenings, receptions, parties and even impromptu after-parties to make this a cohesive experience for audiences, sponsors, and local businesses. The Festival felt more manageable and less confusing for everyone.

“What never ceases to blow me away is the dedication of core volunteers who show up every year and even bring friends to pitch in and make the whole event look effortless,” he said.