Life Out Here: Inaugural film festival a success

“These are going to take a long time to watch and most are going to be bad,” I thought as I looked Friday morning at the list of film entries in the inaugural Imperial County Film Festival and Artist Showcase.

I was right that it took a long time to watch all the movies entered into the festival. I was wrong, though, in projecting that most of the movies entered into the contest by local filmmakers, or those who had filmed in the Imperial Valley, would be bad.

Most of the films were good or better than good. Some were exceptional, particularly considering the scant resources expended to make the movies. Many were made by young people I’ve come across as particularly creative students during my teaching career, including audience choice and best of the festival winner Andrea Durazo of Calexico.

Charla Teeters, the Imperial County Film Commission’s commissioner, asked me to be one of the festival’s judges, I guess because I’ve had miniscule success as a screenwriter. I’ve done a bit of television writing, had a deal for one screenplay that never resulted in a movie being made and have another screenplay for which a financial package now is being sought.

Another judge was Richard Montenegro Brown, my longtime Imperial Valley Press colleague and friend, himself a film buff with some screenwriting aspirations. Our third judge was El Centro native Raul Celaya, a friend of Richard’s when they were kids and a young man who has had considerable success in television and films, including producing a wonderful movie called “That Evening Sun.” That Raul took time from his busy schedule to help substantially with the festival added greatly to its credibility and showed good folks don’t forget their roots.

All three of us were taken aback and thrilled at how appreciatively young local filmmakers used locations around the Imperial Valley. They shot everything from abandoned industrial buildings to the parched desert to the ditch banks to the institutional concrete netherworld called Southwest High to the vibrant cityscapes of Mexicali. Our local filmmakers showed wonderful eyes for filming and many displayed sly senses of humor.

The three of us doing the judging faced a daunting task. We had more good films than we could present with awards. So we talked, mulled, improvised and managed to get awards and plaudits to as many deserving people as possible, which was nice because we had a fine turnout for the awards presentation, a turnout that included all the winning filmmakers and many of their families. Some might argue with our country involved in three wars and trying to crawl out of a horrible recession, and with unemployment sometimes topping 30 percent in this country, that such a festival means little in the grand scope of things.

I would argue the opposite. I’m far from an economist — I’ve given up even trying to balance my checkbook — but I do read, and one thing I’ve read more than once is that while America is no longer a major force in manufacturing, it is a tremendous force in manufacturing creativity. The products the world seeks from us now include movies, music, architecture, software and such. Sadly, our schools are being pushed in the opposite direction, toward meeting state and national standards, which means academic drilling and, teaching to the test. What is sacrificed with curriculums designed largely to meet mandated standards? Art, music, creative writing, free reading, even recess periods where imaginations can run wild, those are the wondrous things pushed to the wayside in such a world. Despite all that, we Americans still remain, for now, a singularly creative people.  Those of us who participated in the inaugural Imperial County Film Festival and Artist Showcase and viewed the local artwork displayed at the festival site or watched the work of Valley filmmakers saw that in droves over the weekend.

Bret Kofford teaches writing and

communication at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus.

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