The Coronado Island Film Festival sees over 80 films each year, helping launch some of them to bigger platforms to be shown on Amazon Prime, PBS and even nominated for Oscar awards.
These 80 films come in all shapes and sizes, from documentaries to shorts to internal monologues, and founder Doug St. Denis and CEO Merridee Book say they do not hesitate to search far and wide for them.
Larissa Lam, Daniel E. Kennedy and Mehrdad Sarlak are just a few of the award-winning filmmakers who have entrusted their films to Coronado Island Film Festival, and have now had their work reach higher heights.
This five-day film festival is coming up on its eighth year, running from Nov. 8-12, and it attracts more than one-third of the attendees from outside of greater San Diego, organizers say.
Coronado has a long history of being a part of the Hollywood industry, dating to 1897, according to the Coronado Historical Association.
In 1915, Siegmund “Pop” Lubin, a pioneer in the film industry, built a studio on Coronado where more than 50 movies were produced.
And of course, in 2022, “Top Gun: Maverick” was filmed on North Island.
Important topics at CIFF
Lam, an Asian American filmmaker based in Los Angeles presented her award-winning film “Far East Deep South” in 2021, the first film festival she was able to attend in person since the pandemic.
It was nice to meet some of the other filmmakers, and it was a very high caliber group of people.”Larissa Lam, an Asian American filmmaker on CIFF.
“It was nice to meet some of the other filmmakers, and it was a very high caliber group of people,” Lam recalled.
“Far East Deep South” follows the story of her husband searching for his Chinese roots, and ultimately finding them in a very unexpected place: Mississippi. It navigates the history of Asian Americans that go deeper than just the narrative of Chinese immigrants coming to America during the goldrush.
Her documentary has won several awards, including receiving the Audience Award at CIFF for 2021.
“I think the festival exposed our film to a new audience, but it was really the awards that helped elevate the film…especially the audience award, because that means the audience loves the film,” Lam said.
There was a hint of trepidation on submitting her film as it discussed a topic that might have more room for debate over opposing views. However, Lam was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception she received.
Dealing with the topic of race is not always easy, but Lam felt the way her and her team constructed the film was crucial in how the documentary was portrayed and received.
“Our goal was to make people think about some of the microaggressions, and the social things that people maybe don’t think about when they’re asking somebody of Asian descent [a question],”Larissa Lam
“Our goal was to make people think about some of the microaggressions, and the social things that people maybe don’t think about when they’re asking somebody of Asian descent [a question],” Lam said.
Strive for diversity
The Coronado Island Film Festival shares a similar goal with Lam in that St. Denis and Book say they strive for diversity and variety when choosing which films to display at the festival.
“We like ones that start conversations, maybe change your mind about something. Make you mad, you know,” St. Denis said.
“And if there can be a civil conversation, where there’s a middle ground,” Book added.
‘Making Coronado Bridge safer’
Similarly, Kennedy debuted his short film “Living Through It” at the film festival in 2021.
It discussed the topic of suicide and mental health by talking with two individuals who attempted suicide off the Coronado Bridge and survived.
The Coronado News looked into the bridge’s history earlier this year.
“Living Through It” has since won the San Diego Film Award for Best Short Documentary in 2022.
“It was very interesting because I hadn’t filmed one frame and Merridee said, ‘We need this film because of the subject matter,’” Kennedy said. “And so they committed to the film before I started it because they wanted to have a special engagement to talk about making Coronado Bridge safer.”
And Book was successful in accomplishing that, with an audience of around 80 members attending Kennedy’s film, which he said was one of the best attended films of that festival.
He said that the audience was important in that they were so willing to engage in conversation and give their encouragement.
‘My home festival’
Kennedy holds a special spot for the Coronado Island Film Festival because it was his very first film festival.
“I call it my home festival. They got me my start, and I tell every filmmaker when I’m out at other film festivals, ‘Don’t forget to submit to Coronado Island Film Festival,’”Daniel E. Kennedy
“I call it my home festival. They got me my start, and I tell every filmmaker when I’m out at other film festivals, ‘Don’t forget to submit to Coronado Island Film Festival,’” Kennedy said.
More than just giving him his start, Kennedy said that there were a number of things that stood out with this film festival, from the community to the organization itself.
“The other thing that stands out is just how well organized it is. The venues are great, and it’s fun to go to all the different venues in the community so you get a feel for Coronado island,” Kennedy said.
Coronado’s engaged audience
Sarlak, an award-winning producer had two films shown at the film festival: “Call Casting” and “Just Hold On”.
“Call Casting” follows the inner dialogue of a voice actor (who is loosely based on the short’s writer/director Dylan Bruno) as he is going through the commercials he’s filming.
“Just Hold On” is a documentary about six-year-old Marlie McDonald who competes in mutton bustin’, a sport where children ride and race sheep, but also looks into her journey of being diagnosed with brain cancer before even being born.
“I find it personally fascinating that we can create one piece of art, put it in front of 100 people, and you’ll get five or six different types of reactions,” Sarlak said.
Sarlak also felt that the audience and community at the film festival who witnessed his films really were able to resonate with parts of it, bringing it to his attention during the Q&A session.
I really just love the festival and hold it in very high regard.”–Mehrdad Sarlak, an award-winning filmmaker on CIFF.
McDonald also showed up with her family, allowing the audience to put together who they saw on the screen with an individual in the room with them.
“It’s just really, really interesting what [the audience’s] take away is…I really just love the festival and hold it in very high regard,” Sarlak said.