Expanded San Diego Film Festival to debut in La Jolla

Director Gus Van Zant is set to appear on opening night.
Director Gus Van Zant is set to appear on opening night.

By Pat Sherman

With fresh energy and leadership at the helm — and a bevvy of A-list events and 50 percent more screenings — San Diego Film Festival (SDFF) organizers are upping the ante for 2012 and beyond.

A primary component of SDFF’s growth strategy is the addition of La Jolla as a venue for several of its top screenings, including “Quartet,” actor Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, and an opening night appearance by legendary filmmaker Gus Van Sant (“Milk,” “My Own Private Idaho”), who will be honored with a career retrospective and a screening of his 1997 drama, “Good Will Hunting” (starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck).

“La Jolla’s inclusion was really important,” said the festival’s new board president, Kevin Leap, noting that screenings will now be split between the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in La Jolla and Reading Theater in the Gaslamp, where the festival has been based for years.

“There are a lot of people in North County, La Jolla included, that just won’t go to the Gaslamp,” Leap said. “La Jolla has such a high propensity for supporting the arts that we wanted to make it as easy as possible for La Jollans (to attend).”

This year’s festival, Sept. 26-30, includes 112 films, documentaries and shorts, including 11 world premieres and 16 West Coast premieres — all jury-selected from 1,300 submissions.

Tickets for individual movies are $14 pre-sale and $16 at the door. Passes range from $75 for an entire day of screenings to $500 for a VIP festival pass granting access to all four days of screenings, events, and panels.

Leap said organizers wanted to hold their “most prestigious event,” the Van Sant tribute, in La Jolla.

“He is the embodiment of what an independent filmmaker begins as and can become,” Leap said. “He makes films for the sake of beauty and art. It’s not 10,000 explosions and people flying across the screen; it’s independent film at its highest level.”

A VIP cocktail reception with Van Sant will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 at MCASD, followed by a 30-minute film retrospective and “Good Will Hunting” at 7 p.m. in Sherwood Auditorium. Tickets to the cocktail reception are $125, or admission is free with purchase of a VIP pass.

Leap said festival organizers envision the SDFF evolving into “Toronto West.”

The Toronto International Film Festival (held this year Sept. 6-16) draws about 200,000 attendees — numbers Leap feels SDFF could eventually achieve, given the city’s proximity to Hollywood, as well as its plethora of hotels, restaurants and attractions.

The SDFF board consulted Sundance Film Festival organizers, as well as those with festivals in Toronto, Tribeca, Napa, Aspen, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara to gain insight on growing SDFF from last year’s attendance of 8,000 to an internationally acclaimed festival drawing 100,000 film lovers.

Leap said the SDFF board is anticipating 25,000 attendees this year.

“Palm Springs does 120,000 people and Santa Barbara does 80,000. There’s no reason that we can’t do at least that,” he said.

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