The Ojai International Film Festival
Nov 2-12, 2017
This is my seventeenth year as a final judge for the Ojai Film Festival. Due to accessibility and cost- effective technology, more and more independent films – both narrative and documentary- are being made today. Also, more film submissions from all over the world are seen, demonstrating that though we are many, we are One.
The winning feature narrative comedy-drama was from India, Half Ticket, about two children, living in the slums of Mumbai, whose dream is to taste their first slice of pizza. It is an endearing and often humorous exploration of the divide between the haves and have-nots, a universal theme far beyond one country.
Yesterday at the Awards Banquet, I was presenting two awards for two narrative short films, both from Iran.
Lunch Time. A sixteen year -old girl arrives at a morgue in Tehran to be turned away due to her age. A poignant family story against the backdrop of a harsh, impersonal bureaucracy that turns grotesque.
The winning narrative short, Re-touch, haunted me days after I screened the film. This was a film never to be forgotten, not only because of the timely subject, but rather how with subtle simplicity and originality, violence and repression against women was portrayed.
Neither filmmaker was present as they were unable to obtain a visa to the United States. The winning filmmaker emailed his acceptance speech which I read at the Award Ceremony. Here is an excerpt from his letter:
“This is my 4th prize for Re-touch from festivals in the United States where I am not able to receive in-person. I hope there will be a day when prejudice or religion does not make people like us talk through written statements.”
The Ojai Film Festival theme is “Enriching the Human Spirit Through Film”.
Media is an amazing power and can be used for good or evil. It can bring together diverse humanity and can also separate them. It is my deep wish that writers in all media might keep this in mind.
On a lighter note, at this year’s Ojai Film Festival, Lifetime Achievement Awards were given to two fine actors: Cloris Leachman (Oscar for The Last Picture Show plus eight Emmy Awards). Now in her early nineties, her career spans seven decades, and she’s still working!
Ed Asner’s career spans six decades, garnered five Emmy awards for Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant. Now working in several feature films, In Vino and The Instigator this year. Several of this year’s filmmaker’s while accepting their awards spoke of growing up watching Ed Asner on television.
Some years ago, I was asked to be on a panel in Los Angeles about Censorship in Hollywood and Ed Asner moderated the panel. It was lively and exciting to join with fellow film people about this important topic. I commented that unlike totalitarian countries, in America, screenwriters, producers, and studios ‘self-censor’ themselves by considering what movies or television shows will sell. Ed liked that. Flash forward several years and we meet again this week at the Ojai Film Festival. I wasn’t sure he would remember me. When he saw me, he bent over and kissed my hand. That was nice. After all, I’m only a writer.
It is quite wonderful to give awards to these two elder actors that many of us grew up watching on the screen. Film History is also our history.