“There aren’t many differences between Sundance’s origins and TFF,” says Messenger film critic, Josh Spence. “Both have ideal locations, a thriving art scene and a hungry grassroots base. More importantly, both delivered the goods.”
As a movie critic, you tend to see things cinematically whether you like to or not.
My editor had assigned me to join the reporting team to cover the local Topanga Film Festival with the angle of getting a feel for the four-day event. As if there could be anything better to do on a Saturday, anyhow. (A film festival for a film critic? Cmon!) I was making my way to Topanga before the conversation ended.
I couldnt help but feel like a stranger entering a strange land driving up the 101 to a place Ive only heard of, and yet write for Topanga. Admittedly, I am not from the area. Being more accustomed to skyscrapers, smog and filth, Topanga was a welcome respite.
Aside from the scenic drive, there was the utterly gorgeous sunset. Its the type that gets etched in your brain. Had a bad day? Lost your dog, your job and your girlfriend all at once? No matter. Did you see that sunset!?!?
Going up and down the long and winding road, I began to feel the dread of being lost until the coyote signs (the festivals logo) beckoned me to continue. Finally arriving at the scene, its outright poetic seeing a city, literally, in flux. In the Tale of Two Topangas, on one side you see Red-handed, a quaint shoppe featuring crafts from local artisans juxtaposed with the state-of-the-art Topanga Library on the other side, a more than fitting location for a film festival. While the aesthetic of the two are polar opposites, it was inspiring to see how the community takes pride in their town.
After checking in, there was a gap between films, and what better way to kill time than to survey the land and visit the Topanga Film Festival-sponsored happy hour at the Topanga Canyon Gallery.
Embracing the wall with my friend, the fly, and eavesdropping on a conversation, I got a better taste of the flavor that Topanga offers. Laid back and friendly, I really didnt have a choice in making friends as various locals introduced themselves and offered interesting conversation about the art on display. I guess we werent strangers anymore.
Sitting and waiting for the film to start, I couldnt help but think about another film festival in Utah that had a similar genesis. Truth be told, there arent many differences between Sundances origins and TFF. Both have ideal locations, a thriving art scene and a hungry grassroots base. More importantly, both delivered the goods.
Although this years Festival was not a competition, if there were one, Saturday nights winner had to be writer/director Sooney Kadouhs This Narrow Place.
The film was a welcome detour from the overwrought and pigeonholed take on Middle Eastern/American relations. Focusing on mans internal struggle with isolation and absolution, This Narrow Place appeals to people across the board.
Saturday nights closer was the Julien International Film Festival winner, Moving On. The documentary highlighted a young American family transplanting to Uganda with hopes of making a difference. Reader, if you weren't there, you truly missed something. Sitting in a makeshift open-air theater on the library patio, watching a story unfold with fans of not just theatre, or film, or art, but expression,was a little slice of Valhalla. The only problem with the evening was that it had to end eventually.
Driving home I could feel the temperature change from 75 to 95 degrees which could only mean Im back in the valley. With the lead of my story firmly entrenched in my mind, I began to think of the comparison I made between TFF and Sundance, and started to argue against myself.
Sundance today, among other film festivals, headlines for what sold or didnt. Coming back from the Topanga Film Festival, I left with an experience, not to mention a little joy (which is a lot for a writer), knowing that art can be made for the sake of art.
More importantly, I left with a little piece of Topanga.