Coronado was home to one of the first major film studios on the West Coast, Lubin Films Western Division from 1915-1916, making the iconic Hotel del Coronado a visiting destination for notable figures in the industry.
Today, film enthusiasts continue to shape the island’s cinematic recognition at the annually anticipated five-day celebration of filmmakers each fall known as the Coronado Island Film Festival, or CIFF.
And while CIFF takes pride in its festival at the end of the year, it also supports year-round programs such as the Classic Film Series, the Student Classic Film Program and the Film Forum Coronado.
Coronado Island Film Festival CEO and Artistic Director Merridee Book said the classic screening series has been selling out the past three months at the 76-year-old Village Theater on 820 Orange Ave.
Screenings range from the 1940s through the 1980s, and doors open at 5 p.m. The cost is $15, and the film begins 30 minutes later.
“We’re starting to see a younger generation come and high school students…It’s opening up the world of cinema to sort of that next generation.”-Coronado Island Film Festival CEO and Artistic Director Merridee Book
“We’re starting to see a younger generation come and high school students,” Book said. “It’s opening up the world of cinema to sort of that next generation.”
Film series includes classic hits
This year the series began with “Casablanca” (1943) in January, and last month the group presented “The Big Chill” (1983). April’s showing is “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955), and next month it will be “Auntie Mame” (1958). The group also will show “Grease” (1978) on the big screen in July.
CIFF also partners with Friends of the Library to present the Film Forum Coronado, which is independently run by its founder and film expert Ralph DeLauro who presents classic films and discussions for adults free of charge inside the Winn Room at the Coronado Public Library.
DeLauro prefaces the films with brief introductions and leads discussion at the conclusion of screenings at 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
In April, the Forum’s film schedule included “Women Talking” (2022) and “The Lady Vanishes” (1938).
Come November, CIFF will host its eighth program, welcoming audiences of all ages to witness a wide range of productions from visual storytellers participating in categories like the short fest collection, narratives and documentaries.
November festival is “special culmination”
Book considers the festival on Veterans Day weekend (Nov. 8-12) a very special culmination of a whole year’s worth of collaboration, partnership and incredible celebration around the history of film.
“We get such a tremendous response from our filmmakers visiting the city. They love our audience.”-Coronado Island Film Festival CEO and Artistic Director Merridee Book
“There’s always something that you’ll learn, there’s always great people that you’ll meet,” said Book. “We get such a tremendous response from our filmmakers visiting the city. They love our audience, they just love the whole experience when they come. And a large part of that is due to our attendees.”
After leaving another film festival, Book joined CIFF in March 2019.
She became involved and stepped into the artistic director role during COVID, and now she oversees every single aspect of the festival.
But there are still people in Coronado who have never been to the festival, she said.
Last year, approximately 6,500 people attended CIFF and almost half were tourists and first-time attendees.
“For people who haven’t attended, we encourage them to attend and if they love it, we would love for them to get involved,” said Book.
A memorable weekend
CIFF prepares a memorable weekend for its attendees with a wide range of events.
From the culinary showcase at the Kick-Off Bash! to Friday morning’s Salute to Veterans! tribute by the Coronado Concert Band followed by the Leonard Maltin Industry Tribute Awards Gala on Saturday night and ending with the traditional “Some Like It Hot” (1959) screening at the Del on Sunday, the program has something for everyone, she said.
The festival returned to in-person last year after virtual and hybrid modes of participation during COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.
Book considers that her team finds itself reintroducing the film festival to individuals each year.
“Last year for 2022, a lot of film festivals were still doing hybrid film festivals, but we really felt that the interpersonal connection and bringing people together, that dynamic, you just can’t create virtually,” Book said.
Book added last year’s big kickoff bash was “reimagined, we made it a kickoff bash because everyone just loved it as a standalone party that kicks off the film festival on a Wednesday night, and we bring in anywhere between 15 and 17 Coronado restaurants.”
Another international star present at the Gala was actress Jacqueline Bisset, who received the Cultural Icon Award celebrating her comedic and dramatic roles across more than 50 films.
Meanwhile, the film festival divides categories of Narrative, Documentary, Shorts, and International films awards that are judged and awarded prizes by Audience Awards, Jury Awards, and Jury Cash Awards.
While the Jury Awards are set in stone, the audience awards vary each year. The CIFF gives out on average 20 and 25 awards, Book said.
A place to embark global recognition
At CIFF, several artists have premiered their film and gone on to receive increasing recognition.
“It’s really awesome to see where people go from where they start when they’re with our festival and where they end up and what projects they start working on,” said Book.
She believes that lives are changed and affected by the films watched at CIFF.
Beyond the several examples of films that have gone on to critical acclaim, Book considers the documentary short “Living Through It” (2021), directed by Daniel E. Kennedy, a film that opened up a powerful conversation about suicide.
The film delivers the testimonies of Bertha Loaiza and Steve Bouchard, both of whom survived the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and whose lives have been impacted from surviving respective falls.
Kennedy produced the film as a student in a summer program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, with the intention to “spark life-saving conversations” surrounding suicide.
This film has since traveled the globe and served as a resource for suicide prevention, Book said.
Kennedy won the 2022 San Diego Film Award for Best Short Documentary.
Connecting between generations
In 2022, CIFF launched the Student Classic Film Study alongside Program Director Jon Mosier with seed funding from a City of Coronado community grant.
Every other Sunday afternoon, middle to high school-aged youth alongside their caregivers may participate in free classic film screenings followed by discussion inside the Winn Room at the Coronado Public Library.
“It’s kind of a lesson in history,” said Book. “Jon’s done an amazing job.”
Now in its second season, the program continues to help young attendees understand and analyze dramatic film narratives, learning critical thinking skills in the process.
Last year there were about 60 participants over the course of the program and in this year’s first two screenings there were about 25 people per screening, with two-thirds being students and one-third being relatives, Mosier said.
Golden Age of Hollywood
The program limits films in the series to the Golden Age of Hollywood, produced from the mid-1930s to early-1960s, and incorporates thematic tropes for monthly conversations that dive into the three act model with the purpose of understanding the films from start to finish.
Mosier provides students with a “Viewer’s Guide” that helps participants learn about the Three-Act Dramatic Narrative Structure in classic films which reveal “The MacGuffin,” or a critically necessary aspect to the plot which moves characters and is dependent on the story.
The guide reads that in Act I, The MacGuffin is revealed and reappears, leading to the climax of the narrative in Act II. However, The MacGuffin is often insignificant to the story’s resolution of conflicts, which takes place in Act III.
Mosier said the first film of the year is always intended to be a baseline to show students how great filmmakers put together a story visually.
“This year we did a romantic comedy, “The Shop Around the Corner,” a film that has endured time and teaches students about a filmmaker’s purpose for telling the story the way he did,” he said.
Imperial Beach resident Karen Bland and her 7th-grade son Kaleb have attended the majority of the screenings since the program started last year.
“It’s just a rich experience.”-Imperial Beach resident Karen Bland on the Student Classic Film Study.
“Mr. Mosier has such passion and insight into these movies, and the movies are from an entirely different generation than these kids have grown up in,” said Karen Bland. “[The program] bridges a generation between their parents and maybe if they attend with their grandparents, it would bridge that generation… It’s just a rich experience.”
Bland and her son consider “A Tale of Two Cities” (1935) their favorite film so far this year for being remarkable and a really excellent movie, she said.
She believes the small attention to detail definitely helps with their schooling.
“Jon Mosier does such a good job,” said Bland. “He’s so passionate that he brings little facts, behind the scenes facts and things to look for while you’re watching the movie…everything is beneficial. It’s wonderful.”
Mosier said “Casablanca” (1942) and “Bringing Up Baby” (1938) are some of his favorite classics, and examples of films that expand this program and continue to show youth audiences the worthwhile product of history and great storytelling that classic films encapsulate.
In the coming years, Mosier hopes to build the audience and outgrow the Winn Room and return to the Village Theater.
“The program will be better with each new person who becomes part of the screening process because everybody’s got good ideas and everybody has something that’s worth sharing after screening a film like this,” said Mosier. “The sky’s the limit.”
Last year CIFF partnered with the Coronado Historical Association to screen films that coincide with exhibits at the museum and Safe Harbor Coronado, a nonprofit group that helps youth and families to overcome challenges such as self esteem, bullying, divorce, drug use and suicide.
Partnering with Safe for Mental Wellness Month last year, CIFF screened the HBO documentary “The Weight of Gold” and hosted a couple of Olympians in a question and answer session.
This year’s CIFF pass sales will be open in the summer, and tickets for individual events will be open on a rolling basis.
“The best part is to get involved now, become a member, see what we do, ask questions, and be a part of the whole landscape of the film festival,” said Book.