Audio by Jordan Triebel and Nico Vinuela

Filmmakers and film-lovers returned to the theaters in person this year for the 28th annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival after two years of an online format due to COVID-19. 

The SLO Film Fest showcased 121 films in the span of two weeks at locations across San Luis Obispo including the Historic Fremont Theater, Sunset Drive-In, Downtown Centre Cinemas and the Cuesta Performing Arts Center. 

This year’s narrative embraced the experience of coming back to the theater in person and the innate connection of a shared passion for film. 

“This year, our program celebrates [San Luis Obispo], powerful and diverse storytelling, and, most importantly, the magic of human connection,” read the Festival Guide

Opening Night: Fire of Love

SLO Film Fest kicked off at the Fremont Theater in Downtown San Luis Obispo on Tuesday, April 26. Before the opening film screened at 7 p.m., a crowd of more than 200 people gathered in the lobby and murmured about the week to come. 

The opening film, “Fire of Love,” is a documentary-style film directed, written and produced by Sara Dosa. It is comprised of found footage from two French volcanologists, Katia and Maurice Krafft.

The film follows the love story between the couple, entangled with their undying passion for studying volcanoes. However, what initially brought them together leads to their untimely death when they are both killed in the eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991. 

Executive Director of SLO Film Fest Skye McLennan said the reason she chose this film for opening night was because of this unconventional story.

“It reminded me of why I love movies. The music, the storytelling –– there is something so unique and special that no one really knows about these two people, these volcanologists,” McLennan said. “I knew that it would leave a special mark on people and I wanted them to have that thread throughout the week.”

Viewers that came to the film said they resonated with the found footage included in the film and admired the Kraffts’ dedication to their trade.

“These are people who got a call and they traveled across the world to get something new and different. I wish we were actually a little bit more like that today,” attendee Torrie Fields said. 

Video by Sophie Lincoln

A Music-Movie Mashup: COAST

Derek Schweickart is a co-director of “Coast.” Emilie Johnson | Mustang News
Derek Schweickart is a co-director of “Coast.” Emilie Johnson | Mustang News

The second night of SLO Film Fest was characterized by the mixing of creative mediums: film and music. The feature film COAST is a coming-of-age story written by Cindy Kitagawa and directed by Jessica Hester and Derek Schweickart.

Kitagawa, originally from Santa Maria, said she wrote this film about growing up on the central coast. 

“It’s a coming-of-age story and coming home story about friendship and family and it’s a splice of life,” Kitagawa said.

Dani Faith Leonard is a producer of “Coast.” Emilie Johnson | Mustang News
Dani Faith Leonard is a producer of “Coast.” Emilie Johnson | Mustang News

The night was largely focused on the appreciation for the central coast and the San Luis Obispo area. 

“It’s kind of everybody’s story and they’ll feel the local scenery and all the locations and they maybe can see their home in a new light,” Kitagawa said. 

To further the coastal camaraderie, SLO Film Fest included a portion of the night full of live performances from San Luis Obispo’s local bands and artists whose songs are featured in COAST. The pre-show concert consisted of performances from Pancho & The Wizards, Dog Party and Hannah Kenny.

“The live bands [that performed were] bands that we’ve met in this community. That’s what makes it even more special and a coming home [feel], because SLO has a really cool music scene, and we were able to foster it and utilize it to create a scene in our movie,” Hester said. 

Surf Nite

One of SLO Film Fest’s most popular traditions is Surf Nite, which publicist and SLO Film Fest Consultant John Wildman coined “The Rocky Horror Picture Show of surf-movie nights.”
On Thursday, April 28 around 7 p.m., rows of classic cars lined up at the Sunset Drive-In and people gathered around to listen to Boomer Surf Band play a collection of beachy-rock music, as they waited for the feature film to start. 

Eventually, everyone returned to their cars to watch “The Yin And Yang of Gerry Lopez,” which was written and directed by Stacy Peralta on the big screen. This film follows the life of famous surfer Gerry Lopez and his journey to finding Zen after a career of aggressive surfing and stealing waves. 

Attendees said they were excited to watch the film about such a locally-known surf legend, but more than anything, they appreciated the lively atmosphere that was curated at Surf Nite said Cal Poly alumnus Cevin Yavari. 

Yavari, who had first attended Surf Nite when he was an undergraduate, said 10 years later he saw Surf Nite advertised for SLO Film Fest, so he had to come back. 

Yavari said that the location of the Sunset Drive-In was special because of the “live music, being outdoors, seeing Madonna mountain, seeing the sunset at the Sunset Drive-In,” and being able to bring their dog.

“You can’t beat it,” Yavari said

Another attendee and surf-lover, Phil Novoa, described the event as a “loose car show.”

The “car show” aspect is a new addition to Surf Nite’s feel and was initiated by the nature of the drive-in venue. Although Surf-Nite has been a long tradition of the SLO Film Fest, it was only recently moved from the Fremont Theater to the Sunset Drive-In in 2021. 

Cal Poly Student “Short Cuts” 

SLO Film Fest embraced San Luis Obispo’s community of young filmmakers when they dedicated a night to Cal Poly “Short Cuts.” Products of student work from ISLA-340 and 341 premiered on the Fremont Theater’s screen on April 28 for a packed audience.

Even the ISLA-340 and 341 professor, Randi Barros, was surprised by the audience turn-out. 

“The event actually exceeded my expectations. I was hoping for 300 or 400 – I think there must have been at least 600 people there,” Barros said. “Just so much enthusiasm and support from the audience coming from so many different directions.”

Students’ first conceptualized their films in the format of an essay for 340, and throughout the two-part class series, went through the process of turning them into screenplays by casting, producing, editing and eventually making a tangible short film. 

“It was just such a time-consuming, intense project and it was so nice to get this as a reward and to see everyone after a while and hang out and just be proud of ourselves and celebrate each other,” international student Selina Madeira Dolscheid said. She was also the writer of the film “Poetic Projection,” a film about the main characters’ conflicting perspectives after a date. 

Six student short films, all ranging from 8-18 minutes long, were produced and shown: “Poetic Projection,” “On that Note,” “Solecita,” “August,” “All I want for Christmas is the Truth” and “Two Things. 

Audio by Natalie Levesque

 Music Video Showcase 

On Friday, April 29, the Fremont Theater had live music performances from bands like  Swede & Skogen and Raccoon Dog before the Music Video Show Case. In total, 12 short music videos were screened, with appearances from filmmakers including Sasha Solodukhina, the creator of the music video “Tell Me a Story.”

Award Night and Winners

On Saturday, April 30, the SLO Film fest neared its closing with an Awards Night Gala and presentation. 

King Vidor Award Recipient and popular character actor, Dale Dickey made an appearance for a Q & A after the awards were presented, where she discussed her complicated career path and leading role in “A Love Song,” a film screened in the festival. 

A panel of film and media professionals discussed all the films throughout the week and awarded filmmakers in 15 different areas.

The list of winning films is as follows:

Best USA Music Video: “Tell Me a Story”

Best International Music Video: “The Sky Belongs to No-One”

Best SLO County Music Video: “Attention”

Best Student Film: “Not One More”

Best Narrative Short: “Someone Will Assist You Shortly”

Best Short Documentary: “Painter of Dreams”

Best Overall Short: “Freedom of Flow”

Best Feature-Length Film: “Winter Ball”

Best Student Film: “Neurodivergent”

Best Animated Short: “She Dreams at Sunrise”

Best Narrative Short: “Georgia”

Best Documentary Short: “Bring them Home”

Best Documentary Feature: “Havana Libre” and “My Childhood, My Country: Twenty Years in Afghanistan”

Best Narrative: “You Resemble Me” 

Closing Night

The SLO Film Fest closed out on Sunday, May 1, with audience awards and the showing of Isabel Castro’s documentary “Mija.”  

“Mija” follows the meeting of music manager Doris Muñoz and Latinx singer Jacks Haupt. Muñoz, the main subject of the film, makes a path for herself to support her undocumented family and a champion for first and second-generation Americans.

SLO Film Fest comes to an end

While SLO Film Fest in-person events came to an end on Sunday, there is still an opportunity for those who may have missed out to view some different films. There will be virtual screenings playing from May 1-8. 

Wildman said that the in-person events this year fostered a renewed sense of energy that could not come from an entirely virtual festival.  

“San Luis Obispo Film Festival has a charm to it that not a lot of film festivals can match and a lot of that charm comes from SLO itself and being back in person. Having film lovers here to interact to enjoy the filmmakers is a huge difference,” Wildman said. “SLO clearly missed this film festival and we saw everyone come back and embrace it in a major way.”