Old Hollywood was the theme, and a new local film festival was the subject as San Diego Film Week kicked off its inaugural celebration at the Lafayette Hotel on Friday night.
The red carpet was lined with local actors, producers and directors as they discussed their projects playing throughout the area for the next seven days.
Women showed up in vintage gowns while the men donned tuxedos and three-piece suits complete with fedoras to kick-off the party downstairs in the hotel’s Mississippi ballroom.
The giant clam shell music stage served as the backdrop and was brightly lit as dancers enjoyed the band’s mix of both old and new music.
The red carpet was well-tread by celebrities who stopped along the way for photo opportunities and press questions.
Television star Merrick McCartha paused amid the buzz in honor of his film “Criminal Minds” to answer a few questions from San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.
We asked why he feels the arts are so important at this point in time. McCartha explained art is the ultimate form of free speech and using it as an honest form of expression is indisputable.
“If you really think about what art is for; it is the ultimate form of free speech,” he told us. “It’s the ultimate form of expressing yourself and being truthful. It’s especially important for people to expand themselves into the arts and express themselves artistically and not care what the political pundits are saying about what’s going on. Just let yourself be. Especially now.”
He is currently working with producer John Singleton (Boyz in the Hood, Poetic Justice) for the BET Network, playing deacon who holds, what he says is a shameful secret.
McCartha says it’s his job to take roles that can speak to a broader audience, reaching out beyond the status quo. This character is new to him, but the controversial storyline is filled with emotions in which everyone can relate.
“As far as [the character’s] sense of shame for how he felt about himself; that’s something I’m bringing out.” the actor said. “I understand what shame is, and these are the kinds of things an artist can do is express themselves into any environment and make it real and still make it fit the story; the theme of what’s going on.”
Jodi Cilley, the festival organizer, founder and president told SDGLN this event started because she wanted to bring local talent and artistic organizations together, drawing her inspiration from, believe it or not, local breweries.
“The theme of this is the film consortium, no one ever understood that. But a consortium is a group of organizations which, so far, we’ve been a group of film makers,” she said. “Now we are trying to sort of evolve to that next level of we are the film makers — we are the people making the beer — but we’re also the one’s marketing it and working to get visibility outside of San Diego for the film makers that are here.”
“Our tagline is, ‘Local Film, Global Audience.’ And right now we have a local audience,” she adds.
Cilley says it’s more important than ever to have artists come together and offer to the world important stories in a collective way.
“In general people need to be a part of something, they want to belong. They don’t want to be left in a little world by themselves — working a job they don’t like. The reason community and community efforts like this are successful is because people feel like that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and they need to feel accepted, wanted and supported.”
In the last couple of weeks with all the divisiveness and challenges with the new political administration she says she feels blessed to be a film maker, “I get to make movies about things that are really happening and that’s why I think it’s so important.”
The consortium is working on several things with KPBS which will be set into motion after the film awards. Cilley feels Hollywood is a place to make big, expensive stories, but San Diego Film Consortium will work hard on getting the smaller, but important ones made too.
“We can try to emulate Hollywood but we don’t have the money,” Cilley said. “But what Hollywood doesn’t show is the real, little stories and we can do that. We can do it cheaply and we can do a lot of it and it’s needed, it’s important and it will help change the future. And that’s really what I see as where we’d like to go.”
It took her about 80 hours to get through all of the initial festival submissions before deciding on the 100 movies that are included in the final series.
This year she just wanted to concentrate on getting the event together and learn what adjustments to make for the future.
“Let’s figure out what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “But we have another year to build this thing up.”
Currently under the fiscal sponsorship of the Media Arts Center of San Diego the Film Consortium works as a hybrid business model which they describe as, “like a non-profit, we want to benefit people; like a government, we are creating something for the public good; and like a business, we make money.”
the First annual San Diego Film Week runs from Friday, February 10, 2017 through Sunday, February 19.