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International film festival returns to San Pedro this weekend [Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)]

October 4, 2013

YellowBrix

San Pedro >> This port community is no stranger to filmmakers who have used its quaint streets and dockside wharves and warehouses for location shoots.

Now some are aiming to boost its reputation as a home for startup film festivals as well.

"Downtown San Pedro has a wonderful history," said Ziggy Mrkich, who has worked for Hollywood film studios and discovered the port town when she came to a Croatian cultural event some years ago. "It's really quaint, and it's perfect for something like a film fest, where you need venues that are ideally within walking distance from each other. And you also have the crown jewel, the Warner Grand (Theatre)."

Plans to upgrade the theater so it will be able to show digitized productions will greatly enhance its film festival value, Mrkich said.

Mrkich has teamed up with actress Renee O'Connor to launch the latest of the town's annual film events, the San Pedro International Film Festival, which makes its second-year run this weekend.

While the inaugural 2012 event drew only about 650 people scattered over the course of the weekend festival, it offered a coup in presenting what was the first Los Angeles screening of a dark horse movie that went on to win an Academy Award - "Silver Linings Playbook."

"For the most part we screen films from the current festival circuit," Mrkich said. "We show things that are doing well on the festival circuit that are no more than 12 months old."

Establishing a film festival is far from easy, however.

"It's very hard," she said. "You have financial challenges and challenges in just getting the word out and getting people excited about it."

When she approached San Pedro's downtown Business Improvement District several months ago with a request for financial help for advertising, board members questioned whether the payoff in terms of visitor numbers would be worth it.

(The board provided some financial help but not as much as had been requested.)

Susan Wilcox was among the first to launch a film festival at the Warner Grand with her foreign film series offerings in the early 2000s.

Stephanie Mardesich of San Pedro, meanwhile, has spearheaded the L.A. Harbor International Film Festival, which marked its 10th year in May. She's joined forces with area schools to involve scores of schoolchildren in her "Read the Book, See the Movie" component that shows classics like "Treasure Island" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," along with sponsoring a red carpet night featuring at least one of the stars of the several films featured during the festival weekend.

Last weekend, the Warner Grand hosted the fourth annual H.P. Lovecraft film festival in tribute of the eccentric writer who became established in the 1920s.

This year's San Pedro International Film Festival will feature a diverse range of documentaries, features, short films and student films from throughout the world. Panel discussions also are planned.

The festival opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Warner Grand Theatre with a screening of "Twice Born," starring Penelope Cruz, and continues with short films, the documentary "Watershed," narrated by Robert Redford (3 p.m. Saturday); "Persephone Speaks: The Forgotten Women of Bosnia," a documentary about rape used as a strategy of war (5 p.m. Saturday); and "Driving Blind," a film about the cross-country journey of two brothers, one of whom faces blindness (11 a.m. Sunday).

The California premiere of the documentary "Sitting Bull's Voice" will screen at 2 p.m Sunday and is narrated by Ernie LaPointe, a great-grandson of the Lakota spiritual leader.

The festival concludes with a special tribute to director Tony Scott at 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by a screening of his film "Days of Thunder."

Scott tragically jumped to his death on Aug. 18, 2012, from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro. His widow is expected to attend the tribute.

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