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Preview: San Diego Film Festival

Zombies, Plastics, and Scruffy Nerfherders

Star Wars fan films are highlighted in the documentary

Credit: Exhibit A Pictures

Above: Star Wars fan films are highlighted in the documentary "The People Vs. George Lucas."


KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews the San Diego Film Festival.


The San Diego Film Festival (running through October 3 at the Reading Gaslamp Theaters) held its opening festivities last night. Here's a preview of some of the upcoming films. You can also listen to my radio feature.

The San Diego Film Festival crams parties and films into one extended weekend. The festival isn't driven by an ethnic focus like the Latino or Asian Film Festivals are. Instead, it makes an effort to focus on San Diego filmmakers. One of my favorite local showcases is the San Diego State Shorts Program.

Minister: "You may now kiss the bride"… (SFX sirens blaring)

Don't you just hate it when the end of the world interrupts your wedding? That's what happens in "Nuclear Winter Ruined My Sex Life," the most cleverly titled film in tonight's SDSU Shorts Program. The film is a smartly produced, post-apocalyptic comedy. It's just one of the reasons to check out the shorts and local filmmakers at the festival. And kudos to the festival for focusing on the next generation of filmmakers.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: North by Northwest Entertainment

Dan Byrd stars as the suicidal teen "Norman."

Ironically, though, you may find more diversity in the shorts than in the narrative features. Many of the feature length films focus on white male characters like the title one of "Norman."

Norman: "A few night ago I attempted to kill myself, nothing with the finesse or showmanship of the dream, but rather just a boy alone in a room with a knife."

"Norman" is fairly typical of the independent films the festival likes to showcase. These films tend to be nicely produced but are independent only terms of how they are financed and not in terms of spirit. These films feel like calling cards made by filmmakers outside the studio system who want nothing more than to become mainstream Hollywood directors. There's nothing wrong with that but you can find that in mall theaters and I always hope for something more adventurous at a festival venue.

But the festival does offer more diversity and innovation in its non-fiction programming. Again, it tries to highlight films with a San Diego connection. One such films is "Des McAnuff: A Life in Stages." This documentary looks at the former artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse. We follow McAnuff to Australia for an opening of "Jersey Boys" and sit in on a jam session with his band.

You can also find documentaries designed more as entertainment than investigations into a particular subject. "Bag It" is as interested in showcasing its on camera narrator Jeb Berrier as it is in exploring the topic of plastics and the environment.

Jeb Berrier: "You know that thing when you learn something for the first time and it keeps popping up everywhere. That's what it was like for me and plastics."

Ever since Michael Moore made "Roger and Me," people like Berrier seem to look at the documentary format as a ticket to celebrity. "Bag It" serves up a lightweight documentary about a serious subject.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Exhibit A Pictures

Conflicted "Star Wars" fans are at the heart of the documentary "The People Vs. George Lucas."

If there's only one film you see at the festival this year let it be "The People Vs. George Lucas." It's fitting that this festival is showing a documentary about pop culture that was shot in part at the Comic-Con. The entertaining documentary explores Star Wars' fans conflicted relationship with George Lucas.

Fan: "I love-hate George Lucas, I love-hate him hard, there was a day when he was just a scruffy nerfherder from Tatooine if you will, he was one of us…"

The breezily paced, efficiently cut documentary perfectly captures the way fans like myself both love and hate George Lucas. Fillmmaker Alexandre Philippe finds genuine Star Wars geeks whose passions are real and who love to whine about minutia. And what better way to define there obsession than to place them as prominently in the frame as their toys. There's also great archival footage of a young Lucas bemoaning the Hollywood system.

George Lucas: "Somebody who has the money and the power they can make aesthetic and editorial decisions that they have no right making."

But rather than fight that system Lucas became a part of it. "The People Vs. George Lucas" is a delightful exploration of fandom and pop culture. It's great that the San Diego Film Festival is showing it to a local audience, some of whom might have actually gotten their first taste of the space saga back at Comic-Con in 1976. The documentary also showcases numerous fan films - which Lucas not only embraces but encourages. These wondrous films show how "Star Wars" has inspired many fans to pick up a camera and become filmmakers themselves.

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