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San Diego Film Festival 2009

Downtown Festival Highlights Local Talent as Well as World Premieres

Above: "That Evening Sun" with Hal Holbrook is the closing night film at SDFF

The San Diego Film Festival kicked off last night with "Like Dandelion Dust." The festival continues through September 27th at the Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters. Here's a look at some of the offerings at the festival.

If you go to film festivals often enough you soon discover that they have very distinct personalities. The Jewish Film Festival presents films as social documents as well as works of art. The Italian Film Festival spends as much time talking about films as showing them, and preferably with good food. The Latino film festival exudes an expansive love of cinema. And the San Diego Film Festival plays like Hollywood south.

The San Diego Film Festival has been voted the best party festival and favors mainstream celebrities such as this year's William Shatner and Richard Dreyfus. The films scheduled tend to be U.S. documentaries and American independents. But the indies are more often calling cards for Hollywood then audacious experiments that push the envelope. So the movies at the San Diego Film Festival are likely to be well-mounted, well-acted narratives like last night's opener "Like Dandelion Dust" with Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper, or the closing night film "That Evening Sun" with Hal Holbrook. There are also What could be called Hollywood independents such as Miramax's "The Boys are Back," starring Clive Owen.

Or take "The Job" for example. It is having its World Premiere at the festival on Saturday. Writer-director Shem Bitterman has only a handful of films to his credit, but he has crafted a devilishly playful tale about a young man named Bubba (Patrick Flueger) looking for work. He gets a lead on a job but then the job interview takes an odd turn as Mr. Perriman (Joe Pantoliano) asks, "So what kind of weapon do you favor? Gun, knife, scissors, baseball bat?" Huh? Bubba doesn't like the way this job seems to be heading but he does like the sound of the $200 grand that's being offered as pay.

Back at his apartment, the stranger (Ron Perlman) who hooked him up with Mr. Perrimen inquires about the job.

Bubba: "The job is murder."

Jim: "Every job is tough but you can't let that get you down."

Bubba: "Murder. The job IS murder, and it gets weirder. The victim was there in the room with his wife and he wants me to strangle him."

Yep, that's weird. "The Job" allows actors like Ron Perlman and Joe Pantoliano to have fun with colorful supporting roles. Meanwhile, Bitterman can show that he's fully capable of directing a mainstream Hollywood-style movie. The film is entertaining and fun with twists that arrive like clockwork. In other words, it serves up solid storytelling but without taking any risks.

Ross Ching's music video for "Little Bribes"

Ross Ching

Above: Ross Ching's music video for "Little Bribes"

The festival, however, does take some risks with its short film programs that look specifically to homegrown talent. Tonight you can find former KPBS student assistant Ross Ching's amazing music video for Death Cab for Cutie's "Little Bribes." The music video features his innovative timelapse and animation. The film reveals his technical ingenuity but in a manner that totally suits the song's content. I'm also intrigued by the title of SDSU's ever-productive Kevin King and Alex Farnsley. Their short is titled "Dark and Bloody Ground: The Story of an Open Grave." On a brighter note former Francis Parker student Andrew Rubin will have his big box romantic comedy "Love in Bulk" showcased. There's also an encore screening of Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12," which won best short at Sundance earlier this year. It's a semi-autobiographical story about working at a residential facility for at-risk teens.

Cretton is now in the process of trying to turn his short into a feature film, a feature that maybe one day will debut at the San Diego Film Festival. So whether you want to catch fresh young talent bursting with potential or more seasoned pros honing their craft, you can find both downtown at the Gaslamp Theaters for this year's San Diego Film Festival.

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