Film Fest Another Cinematastic Success
By David Crohn

Fourteen films. Six filmmakers. Two days, two nights. And over 1,000 attendees, who, eager to escape Hollywood’s pervasive grip on contemporary cinematic art, flocked to Ocean Beach this weekend for the Golden Wagon Film Festival.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has grown a bit while retaining the spirit and design its founders envisioned years ago.

Not only was the playbill packed with alternative, independent shorts and features, but the festival itself has an unconventional format. The laid-back atmosphere offered people opportunities to stretch out and enjoy a beer and a burger, as well as plenty of chances to interact with the filmmakers.

“We modeled this after other outdoor, island festivals,” said co-founder and organizer Greg Pace. “We wanted to do something that complements the location. The films we select, too, complement that whole casual atmosphere.”

The festival received over 250 submissions—more than ever—from all over the world. Flicks came in from “ Australia, Greece, Italy and as far away as Minnesota,” joked emcee Bob Buchman. Even hits to the film fest’s web site, www.goldenwagonfilmfest.com, have quadrupled in the past year. There were over 45,000 in just the week before the event.

“That shows that our sponsors and donors are getting the attention they hoped for when contributing to a film festival,” said Pace.

Films ran the gamut in style and format. There were feature-length documentaries, short features, short documentaries and full-length features.

Friday night included screenings of “Made In India?,” an Indian-American woman’s account of her foray into an arranged marriage; “Who Gets to Call It Art?,” a doc about the arts scene in New York’s Lower East Side during the 60s; and sleeper hit “Zombie-American,” a touching portrait of Glen, a member of the often-invisible undead segment of American society.

Screenings continued the next day, with a full program of docs and narratives, and continued into Sunday with the Kids’ Red Wagon Film Festival. On Saturday in the community house, an unintended theme arose, with three films—“Zahira: La Que Florece,” “Ten Souls Rising” and “9/12: From Chaos to Community”—that offered a variety of reactions to terrorism at home and abroad. That night on the ball field, “The Good Mother,” a searing feature about a woman afflicted with Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, was shown.

The festival culminated Saturday night, with a presentation honoring Celeste Holm, this year’s Tony Randall Lifetime Achievement Award winner, and an awards ceremony for the festival’s best films.

Holm, 89, has starred in a wide array of films and theatrical productions during her long and illustrious career, from the Broadway production of “ Oklahoma” to “All About Eve” and “Come to the Stable,” which was screened on Sunday.

When she took to the stage to accept her award, she was greeted with a standing ovation. She thanked the audience for their cheers, and then related moments from her childhood growing up in rural New Jersey.

“We lived outdoor in tents all year round until my grandmother was 72,” she said. “We thought she should have a house. So we built her a house.”

Later, the winners were presented plaques and had a chance to say a few words. The Bronze Wagon Award went to “Zahira: La Que Florece,” a feature-length documentary about a young woman who was injured in the 2004 Madrid train bombing.

Filmmakers Nina Rosenblum and Dennis Watlington were on hand to accept the award. Rosenblum said she hoped that Zahira, “a warrior for peace” would be “an example for us all.” Watlington, an African American, said, “It’s been wonderful to be on an island full of attractive Jewish women, being the only Sidney Poitier among all of them.”

Peter Rosen’s documentary “Who Gets to Call it Art?” was awarded the Silver Wagon Award. Rosen said he was “surprised” to get the award, but pleased. “To get an award for a documentary about art in the 60s is very rewarding,” he said. “This will help me a lot [in getting the film distributed].”

The makers of “Rain in a Dry Land,” the Golden Wagon Award winner, were not on hand.

If you didn’t make it to the festival this summer, there’s always next year, said Pace.

You can expect “more great films,” he said. “Every year we do this, because the filmmakers have such a good experience here, they tell other filmmakers, so word of mouth spreads and we get more and better films."