June 4, 2020

Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film



By Annemarie Donkin


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

TFF Executive Producer Bruce Royer welcomes one and all to the Topanga Film Festival's 10th Anniversary Opening Night.

The 10th Annual Topanga Film Festival got off to a great start Thursday, July 17, with the opening festivities at the Theatricum Botanicum that were hosted by the Topanga Chamber of Commerce, which also hosted the closing party.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

The dance troupe, Jagged, who appear in the documentary Off the Floor gave a stunning performance before the screening of short films on opening night.

About 300 people gathered under the oaks, noshing on food and drink from Whole Foods, gourmet popcorn by Heidi Volpe and handmade artisan chocolate by Michele Capra (from her company Love Bites) all while the crowd reminisced about how it’s already been 10 years for the festival.

Yet many in the crowd were first timers, attracted to the unique setting and choice of films.

“I am here just to see the amazing transducers transform electricity and the physical realm and make it look like 3D,” said playwright and musician Sandra Bacall, who was there with singer/actress Catherine McClenahan, who was just recently cast in a feature film.

The gala evening also featured roaming musicians (buskers), among them, Sarah Bansak on accordion, vocalist Grace Lewis with her guitar, and opera punk singer Poeina Suddarth.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Sparky Firepants’ David Billings, silk-screening guru, and his wife, Jenni, were a big hit throughout the festival, as they screened TFF’s signature coyote on guests’ garments or T-shirts they sold, for them to take home as a wearable memento of Topanga Film Festival 2014.

Sparky Firepants invited guests to bring an article of clothing to be silk screened with TFF’s signature coyote on to take home as a wearable memento of Topanga Film Festival 2014.

Kelly Carlin (George’s daughter) emceed the Opening Gala followed by a pre-show featuring live contemporary pole dancing troupe, Jagged, the subjects of Matthew and Katie Celia’s hot dance doc, Off The Floor.

Just before the short films in competition screened, Cari Ann Shim Sham, programmer of the Dance Film Showcase and a TFF producer, took the stage and welcomed the crowd along with TFF producer Bruce Royer, who in turn thanked the 73 festival volunteers and crew members that made the event possible.

This year, TFF showcased 61 films along with special guests, panels and live entertainment and during the weekend, the lineup of Topanga celebrity guests included actress Wendie Malick and director Alexander Payne (who made the Oscar-nominated film, Nebraska). In fact the TFF Vision Award went to Payne for his achievement in the art of cinema.

Overall, it was a successful festival, with Poverty, Inc. by director Michael Matheson Miller winning the Coveted Coyote Award for best feature film; Milk & Blood won for Best Short Film, Curse of the Werewolf won for the Best Youth Short Film and the Best Dance Short Film was Two Sink, Three Float.

“I never thought I would be so happy to receive a paint can,” Matheson Miller  said of Rebecca Catteral’s ceramic creation. “We are grateful for the hospitality and kindness from the [Topanga] community.”


By Josh Spence

A look at Topanga’s premiere Film Festival through the eyes of the Messenger’s ubiquitous critic.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Actress WendieMalick who currently stars in the TV comedy “Hot in Cleveland” had an entertaining fireside chat with Alexander Payne who has directed, among other films, The Descendants and Nebraska. They talked about age, how to delineate Comedy and Drama; casting; the quagmire of screenwriting; the loveable quirkiness of life in Topanga and, of course, wine.

There’s a certain irony that made this year’s Topanga Film Festival (TFF) so beautiful. TFF topped itself with its best lineup to date featuring more performances and panels than previous incarnations. The event’s highlight was a Fireside Chat moderated by Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me,” “Hot in Cleveland”) with two-time Academy Award-winning writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska).

For the past three years, the festival has been mired by cloudy weather, so it only makes sense that this year, the festival’s tenth anniversary, rain ensued upon the mostly open-air festival halfway through the four-day run. While certainly not as foreboding as rain on a wedding day, the precipitation added an extra dimension to the proceedings.

Instead of fleeing and running for cover, fans enjoyed the warmth of each other inside Froggy’s Fish Market and Froggy’s Tent. The rain not only didn’t hinder, but helped as it brought the sweet smell of Topanga and the Santa Monica Mountains air that, maybe (just maybe) only fresh popcorn can top.

It was at this exact moment that the Topanga Film Festival finally came into its own. There is far too much ground to cover so we’ll start with the recipients of TFF’s Coveted Coyote Awards

Walking Contest, Honorable Mention—Emmy-nominated composer Daniel Koren poses a thought that we’ve all thought at one point or another: “Why is this stranger walking at the same pace as me? Let’s see if he can catch up to this!?!” Vania Heyman, who was the director of 2013’s viral hit: an update of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” captures a delicious slice of life. All in two minutes.

Technically not an honorable mention but these two films really deserve a mention.

GMO OMG —takes a stark look at the effects and risks to the environment and to our health that come from genetically modified organisms. Directed by Jeremy Seifert, GMO OMG has an ecological bent that always has a strong family dynamic between a father and his children.

James Keach’s I’ll Be Me—is a triumphant and heartbreaking look at country music icon Glen Campbell’s acknowledging the inevitable after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By taking the road less traveled, Campbell fights the dying of the light by going on tour. Scheduled for just a couple of months, the artist’s tour lasted about a year. This is a worthy story being told honestly about a man accepting death but on his own terms.

Two Sink, Three Float, Best Dance Short—Clocking in just over five minutes, Satya Roosens’ short film is surreal and loaded with beauty and metaphor that leaves the audience wondering what they saw, but sure glad they saw it.

Lovesick Fool, Best Animated Short—features Fred Willard, Janeane Garofalo and Lisa Kudrow and fits in nicely either at TFF or on Comedy Central. Another underrated gem was Chris Romano’s Monstro, which shows a lighter shade of the creature from the black lagoon.

Poverty, Inc., Best Documentary—traces the butterfly effect of America’s best intentions and worst follow-through. Director Michael Matheson Miller gives an unflinching look at the booming market of agency development, NGO and, even worse, for-profit aid contractors. Shot over four years and in 20 countries, the question is unfortunately answered about the ever-expanding gap between economic classes, leading to fewer “haves” and more “have-nots.”

Milk & Blood, Best Short—After being on the festival circuit for a few years, Milk & Blood tells the story of a lactose intolerant milk farmer taking revenge on his father after being wrongly accused for breaking the milk tank. The performances are strong enough to justify repeat viewings.


Visionary Filmmaker Alexander Payne—In a festival that was consistently solid in film, presentation and performance, the Saturday panels in Froggy’s tent took the crown with the Wendie Malick’s interview of Payne as the crown jewel. Listening to Payne break down his films in such an insouciant manner, made each listener feel that they could make their own film. As if it were that easy. The director could not have been more endearing as he shared his struggles and plight that even an Academy-Award winner still gets stonewalled. What was great throughout the interview was that Payne continually broke down his methodical approach. Even better, is that none of it included the Hollywood cookie-cutter system.

As great as the Fireside Chat with Payne was, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the rest of the panels

Composer/Conductor Kim Allen Kluge and songwriter Wendy Smith—not only spoke with top-shelf composers, but the sheer diversity, breadth and depth was mind-blowing. This panel included: Mac Quayle and Cliff Martinez: Spring Breakers, Drive, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Normal Heart; Ceiri Torjussen, Live Free or Die Hard, When A Stranger Calls, Hellboy; Nathan Barr: “True Blood,” Grindhouse, The Dukes of Hazzard.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Miranda Robin in full Chaplin garb curated the Charlie Chaplin Showcase where the 1916 Chaplin film, The Rink, was also screened to a delighted audience.

Charlie Chaplin Showcase—Not exactly one of the panels but worthy of note was the screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink (1916), followed by a screening of a contemporary re-creation of films of the time, The Moving Picture Co. 1914, directed by Mark Kirkland using, for some scenes, an authentic hand-cranked camera from his


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

After the screening of his silent black and white film, The Moving Picture Co. 1914,Director Mark Kirkland (R) and his celebrated celebrity photographer father, Douglas Kirkland (L), led a discussion with cast and crew members.

collection. Kirkland is a three-time Primetime Emmy® Award-winning director and has directed more than 80 episodes of “The Simpsons.” A discussion followed with the director and his father, the celebrated celebrity photographer, Douglas Kirkland, who was Chaplin’s still photographer on all of his films. Members of the cast and crew joined the discussion. Nobody remembers who followed the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1964, but this was definitely not the case with the Kirklands’ (père et fils) Q&A that followed hot on the heels of the exciting Fireside Chat with Wendie Malick and Alexander Payne. Kirkland’s presentation should be an exhibit in a film museum as purists and historians get downright priaprismatic over old-school hand-cranked cameras.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

The panel discussion “Breaking In and the Art of Collaboration” featured filmmakers whose documentaries screened at the festival. (L-R)Moderator Rory Rooney, Kate Logan (Kidnapped for Christ), Kerry Candaele (Following the Ninth, In the Footsteps of Beethoven), Michael Matheson Miller and Mark R. Weber (Poverty, Inc.), and Matt and Kate Celia (Off the Floor). Some of the topics that they touched on included: Art isn’t created in a vacuum. Film is a collective endeavor. Making a subject comfortable is one of the most important things. How long did it take to make their films? (For most it was years.)How did they overcome trials and tribulations of getting funding and the inevitable reaching into their own pockets? And the courage of their subjects who ultimately made them brave enough to keep pursuing the film when all seemed hopeless.

Meet the Filmmakers—Mark R. Weber and Michael Matheson Miller, Poverty, Inc.; Kate Logan, Kidnapped for Christ; Kerry Candaele, Following the Ninth, In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony; and Matt and Katie Celia, Off the Floor.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

From left, Michael Matheson Miller and Mark R. Weber accepting the Coveted Coyote Award for their feature-length documentary, Poverty, Inc. “I never thought I would be so happy to receive a paint can,” said Matheson Miller. The awards were created by Topanga ceramist Rebecca Catterall.

Rory Rooney’s panel featured the filmmakers selected for TFF 2014 to discuss more than the technical aspects of working in the indie film circuit today. Talking to established filmmakers and composers is fun but, while listening to emerging artists share their ambition and passion is inspirational, hearing them connect on a human level is what makes things memorable.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Above, Tim Pershing (center), Deputy to State Assemblymember, Richard Bloom, presented a proclamation to Sara Baur-Harding and Urs Baur, founders of the Topanga Film Festival, commending their vision and perseverence in bringing the festival to Topanga. Cari Ann Shim Sham and TFF Executive Producer Bruce Royer look on.

CORRECTION—This was the exact moment when the Topanga Film Festival came into its own.


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Pole dancers from the documentary, Off the Floor, directed by Matt and Katie Celia, presented live demonstrations of the emerging art of contemporary pole dance, demonstrating how it has evolved from its origins in strip clubs into a movement of feminine empowerment and self-expression. The film followed Jessica Anderson-Gwin and the challenging journey and evolution of her visionary dance company, Jagged. It was a jaw-dropping experience to witness the athleticism and dedication of these women. They raised the barre and changed our preconceptions.


By Diane Shields


Topanga Film Festival 2014—For The Love of Film

Headshot with Post-Its.©

The 2014 Topanga Film Festival (TFF) Dance Film Showcase was a cornucopia of filmic imagination in the 14 short films screened.

This was Cari Ann Shim Sham’s fifth year of curating the showcase and, as one of the TFF producers, she shared welcoming duties at the opening Gala and closing Awards Party with Bruce Royer, Executive Producer of this year’s festival.

Along with Urs and Sara Baur’s vision of holding the festival in one place, Froggy’s (except for the Gala at the Theatricum), 71 volunteers, TFF sponsors, Friends and Fans of the Fest, resulted in a successful, entertaining and fun event.

Two Sink and Three Float<.i>, which took the award for Best Dance Short, transported us to an underwater world of murky, green reality.

Walking Contest, which won a well-deserved Honorable Mention for Short Dance Film, explored our expectation of anonymity in public spaces by demonstrating what happens when a person walks in unison with a complete stranger on a city street. It provided an opportunity to see personal connections in an insightful way while revealing how isolated and alone we are, even amongst hundreds of people.

The screenings began with Boombox Eryri, which covered 100 people dancing to 100 songs, each in their own style. Set in rural Norway, viewers observed a steady stream of individual dancers in a happy display of ordinary people expressing themselves. Cows in the background added to the humor.

Body without a Brain, a short film featuring a boy moving in the primeval mud of a jungle. Eerie music and strange camera angles added to its bizarre effect.

Tizzy was a clever flowing of dance scenes featuring a guy and a ball moving in unison.

Upside Down was a split-frame mirror effect set in a skateboard park that gave the impression of movement without the skateboard.

Drop/ was performed in yellow-clad rain gear with robotic movements that displayed a wonderful symmetry.

What’s What entertained us in cabaret style, popping in and out of different time periods with an addictive pull and great cadence.

Surge gave us a chance to see some artistic underwater dancing with a dream-like quality.

Walking Grounds explored pure movement and sounds that evoke the senses.

Sheenpo presented a woman sitting at her desk with her mind on intense personal thoughts. The contrast of the physical workplace with the metaphysical thought-space depicted by forceful dance movements had an emotional appeal.

Quake, with its sparse soundscape of ambient sounds, evoked a high-drama impression of traditional Quaker women as it segues to reveal their bare breasts. It is a real work of art expressing their outer and inner lives.

Dragon Fly/ is a fascinating study of upper body dance movements by women in traditional dress. Their head movements are almost puppet-like.

Everyone left the tent of the Topanga Dance Film screening mesmerized by the variety of modes used to tell complete stories in such a few short minutes.