The historic halls of the Art Theater on Fourth Street roared with thunderous applause, impassioned speeches and camera flashes Thursday, as the 2018 Catalina Film Festival kicked off the first night of its week-long showcase.
The international festival began in 2010 on Catalina Island, home to the Avalon Theater, one of the first theaters designed for sound pictures. Festival co-founders Ron Truppa and Delious “Tim” Kennedy goal was to pay homage to the theater and its rich Hollywood history.
“We love honoring the history of the island,” Truppa said.
The start of the night was marked by a slight communication hiccup after the intended order of the first two films, “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” and “Pa’lante,” was accidentally reversed. This resulted in a second screening of “Pa’lante” to coordinate with the arrival of filmmakers Ramon Rodriguez and Rosie Perez later that night.
Despite the error, the mood in the theater failed to sour; the audience remained respectful of the films and filmmakers, remaining silent during the screenings and roaring with applause upon their completion.
According to Truppa, these films are hand-picked from submissions numbering in the thousands submitted online by filmmakers across the globe.
“We literally start preparing for the festival a couple weeks after this festival ends,” Kennedy said. “We look to highlight those filmmakers who have something to say and to give them a platform to show it to people.”
Truppa’s and Kennedy’s long-lasting dedication to presenting a highly respectable film festival revealed itself in the films showcased that night. “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” documents the life of the titular Hawaii native, who as a teenager lost her left arm to a shark attack while surfing, and her fight to be recognized not just as a survivor, but as an accomplished professional surfer in her own right.
Director Aaron Lieber began his career in filmmaking wanting to travel the world and make surf films, recording and documenting various surfers he met on his journeys. Lieber first came to work with Hamilton in 2014 on what was originally supposed to be a short, six-minute piece showcasing her skills as a professional surfer.
However, four months into the project, she became pregnant with her first child. He followed her for four years, accumulating endless amounts of material, until he finally set to work to construct a team that would help carry the project through to completion.
“I got two female producers who have twenty-plus years in narrative background and a female lead editor,” he said. “With them, I was able to step back and really develop a three-act structure.”
The second film of the night, “Pa’lante,” details life for Puerto Rican families post-hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Filmmakers Ramon Rodriguez and Rosie Perez, appearing in the film as themselves to give a central voice to the narrative, clearly put their everything into making this piece as genuine and authentic as possible.
“This is a subject that is really close to my heart,” Rodriguez said. “To be able to go down and do something really meant a lot.” The two were presented with the Humanitarian Award for their efforts.
“Love Possibly,” a light-hearted mockumentary to close out the first night of the festival, follows socially-awkward protagonist Alex on his misguided quest to find true love.
Although much of the audience had left before the film began, with the time spent screening “Pa’lante” a second time undoubtedly influencing the decision for some audience members, those who remained were absolutely entertained by the hilarious and compelling narrative.
Night one of the festival presented an incredibly solid lineup of enduring, high-quality films that utterly enthralled the audience on its first night. The festival continues through the weekend until its closing day on Sunday.