September 20, 2021

And the Coveted Coyote Goes To…


The intimate charm of Urs and Sara Baur’s homemade screen may have been missed, but otherwise, this year’s second annual Topanga Film Festival was a quantum leap forward over last year’s backyard affair.

It was a major undertaking for the Baurs, who directed the festival, and Nicole Einhorn, who produced the event.

“We’re really happy it all came together,” said Urs. “It was about as good as we hoped it could be.”

Roughly 500 people—many, if not most, from outside the Canyon—sat on blankets, folding chairs, or the green grass of the ballfield to watch an evening of short films, projected with stunning digital quality onto a drive-in-movie-sized inflatable screen. Sound quality was equally impeccable. As for Master of Ceremonies Billy Portman’s irreverent humor made the between-film moments as entertaining as the movies themselves—if the Academy is looking for a replacement for Billy Crystal, they should send their scouts out to Topanga. And for the winners, there was the beautiful, wrought-iron “Coveted Coyote” trophy, created by Topanga’s Chuck Bateman, a truly unique award that captures the character of the Canyon. And on top of that, the first-place filmmakers will receive $30,000 worth of film equipment rental donated by Panavision.

The evening was beautiful if a little chilly. The movie screen was like a jewel against the velvet backdrop of Santa Monica Mountains and starry sky. There was food, drink, even a DJ, and at least two people actually danced. The parking volunteers were resourceful and friendly. If you got cold down on the field, one could always repair to the “bar” area—normally the bandstand—where it was warm and cozy, and you could still see and hear the films just fine.

And the Coveted Coyote Goes To…

And then there were the films themselves. Seventeen of them, culled from 130 entries, they ranged from one minute to 27 minutes in length, and varied even more in subject matter and style. There was drama and comedy, journalistic documentary, painterly animation, impressionistic travelogue, punkish experimental narrative, and more. There were films with professional-quality production values, and films that wore their miniscule budgets proudly. One creator boasted of making his film for under twenty dollars, while another explained that his was conceived in order to take advantage of some cool make-up he’d been wearing in his day job as an extra. The judges were not to be envied for having to choose one winner from among these apples and oranges.

But when the last frame had been projected (it was past midnight by then), the five distinguished jurists—Jean-Michel Crettaz, Randall Einhorn, Bill Fagerbakke, Kathie Gibboney and Nic Harcourt—repaired to a sequestered tent, where—provided with food and drink—they wrangled over their decision, while the audience mingled, snacked, and generally hung on tenterhooks, awaiting the verdict. And the winner was…

“…The Act,” a nine-minute long comedy-drama by the writing-directing team of Pi Ware and Susan Craker. This polished little gem of a picture contrasts a stand-up comedienne’s nightclub routine with the reality of her life, including a twist ending and a killer last-line.

Honorable mention went to “Jaques Cousteau Above the Ocean,” a parody of the late oceanographic filmmaker, and a clear audience favorite.

The judges couldn’t resist citing one more film, call it honorable honorable mention if you like: “The Wedge,” a three minute epic consisting entirely of dated stock footage, woven into a narrative by the use of clever voice-over (this was the ‘under twenty dollar’ film).

“We tried to select films that expand the limits of short films,” said Judge Crettaz after the winners had been announced. “All three contained layers in their meaning. They weren’t ‘bonsai features’—short versions of feature films.”

And the Coveted Coyote Goes To…

As for the choice of “The Act” as the recipient of the Coveted Coyote, it was the unexpected way in which the character was developed, and the amount of meaning in the film’s final line that set it apart, according to Judge Gibboney.

“I got a sense of a relationship, and that was what that film was trying to do,” she said. “It took you around a curve or two, and then it becomes wonderfully clear what the main character’s struggle was in the end.”

Unfortunately the films’ creators, Ware and Craker, were unable to attend the festival. Word is that the Panavision portion of the prize comes just in time to help them make their next film, which is ready to go.

Of course, “they’re all winners,” was the appropriate mantra for the evening, as articulated by Sara Baur. She was especially pleased that the festival actually inspired some filmmakers to make their movies. Topangan Jill Bayor, she said, challenged herself to make her film—a 60-second rumination on love and relationships shot entirely on a Scrabble board—in order to enter it in the festival, and has since reportedly received an offer from MTV to show it.

Other festial entries made byTopangans included William Preston Bowling’s documentary “H2Oh Now,” ,Benar Geer’s short “Topanga’s Outback,” “Los Queridos,” by Linda Serbu, “Trailer Trash” by Galderiel Thompson, “Icon,” by Bob Bresnick, and “Looking for Ameria,” by Keya Ketia and Douglas Thompson. “The Act” was scored by canyon resident Andrew Gross.

The Baurs were surprised by the many early arrivals at the Festival–people showed up hours in advance to picnic or just hang out on the Ballfield grass.

“Maybe we can make better use of the day next year,” Urs said, “with workshops and panels, make it a day-long event.”

Thanks go out to the many volunteers who made the evening possible, Urs added, along to Lisa Villasenor and the Community Club.

All in all, the evening was so charmed, that even the mishaps proved positive. At one point during the final film of the night, the power generator went out. Not only did the screen go black, but without the electric air pump, the enormous inflatable apparatus began to slowly deflate and collapse. But, it took only minutes to set things aright, and the sight of the collapsing screen merely took its place as one of the festival’s many memorable images.