I’ve always wanted to attend a film festival, and signing up to be a film festival screener earlier this year allowed me the chance to earn a screening pass to this year’s festival. I screened enough hours to earn a Fest Pass, which granted me submission to about as many film screenings as I can squeeze in over the course of the festival, as well as multiple parties. In the weeks leading up to the festival, I was constantly reviewing my schedule, figuring out which films I could attend, and updating as new films continued to be announced. I wanted to make sure to see as many films as possible, determined to make the most of my experience.
On opening night, we gathered at the Balboa Theater in downtown, for a screening of Marshall, making it’s West Coast premiere. Afterwards, a couple of the film’s producers were brought onstage for a Q&A. It was a wonderful experience getting to kick off the festival with such a great film as well as learning some of the behind the scenes tidbits from some of its creators. This was followed by the opening night party on the rooftop of the nearby Westgate Hotel, which featured hosted food and drinks, as well as live music and some casino games. It was the perfect way to kick off the film festival. The rest of the screenings would take place at both UA Horton Plaza and Arclight La Jolla, with The Pendry Hotel serving as the headquarters for the festival.
Over the next few days, I saw 8 films, went to a couple parties, ran into some old friends, and made some new ones.
I’m going to single out 3 films that were my personal highlights of the weekend, the first being, Call Me By Your Name. This is the newest film from Luca Guadagnino, who previously directed such films as I Am Love and A Bigger Splash. He also just wrapped production on the upcoming Suspiria remake. Anyways, Call Me By Your Name stars Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg, and is a gay drama focusing on an American graduate student who falls in love with a teenager in northern Italy in the summer of 1983. This film has been on the festival circuit for the last several months, garnering mass critical acclaim, as well as gaining notoriety for its controversial central plot points. Both of these factors led me to signing up for this screening as I saw it was on the program schedule for the festival.
One of the first things I noticed about this film was how it sucks you right into its world: The backdrops, the music, the cinematography, it was absolutely immersive. I felt like I could reach out and touch the surroundings, I could smell the wine and the summer air. It brought me back to my own summer experience studying abroad in Florence. The drama in this film was both beautiful and heartbreaking, about young love and lost innocence. The acting across the board was Oscar worthy, led by most notably by Armie and Timothee, the finest work I’ve seen from both of them. Michael Stuhlbarg in a supporting was exceptional as always. I can see why there’s controversy surrounding its subject matter, but I really hope that doesn’t dissuade anyone from experiencing such a beautiful film that we can all connect to one way or another.
The next film entitled Juggernaut, focuses on a young ex-con who returns to his hometown and begins inquiring into the death of his mother, which he believes was not a suicide like reported. This film is a slow burn thriller, filled with gorgeous cinematography, and tense, gripping drama. Its cast is a mix of relative newcomers as well as veteran character actor such as Stephen McHattie and Peter McRobbie in supporting roles. The standout in this film was undoubtedly its lead, played by Jack Kesy, who stole the show with his complex, layered portrayal of Saxon Gamble. Get to used to seeing his face, he’s slated to appear in a number of upcoming feature films including Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake as well as Deadpool 2, which just wrapped production. This film was followed by a Q&A which featured Kesy, as well as its director, Daniel DiMarco, who I got the chance to speak with afterwards. He’s a nice guy and a very talented director. I look forward to seeing his future films.
The final film I wanted to discuss is titled Dismissed, which I saw immediately following Juggernaut. This was the film’s world premiere, so that was pretty cool. Anyways, Dismissed follows a high school English teacher who struggles to connect with his students, until a transfer student arrives and who shares his passion for literature and academics in general. The teacher, David, is excited to finally have a student who reawakens his passion for teaching until he realizes how far this new student will go to achieve absolute perfection. Things get creepy from there… This film was equal parts thrilling and chilling, keeping me on edge until the credits rolled. The “perfect” student was played by Dylan Sprouse, who along with his twin brother Cole, acted opposite Adam Sandler in Big Daddy. I was shocked when I recognized him in this film, all grown up, and playing his role to chilling perfection. Afterwards, it wasn’t until the Q&A that I was a bit surprised to learn that I was actually sitting right next to a collection of the cast and crew. So, you could say that was a pretty cool experience.
Not only was it cool to see a number of great films ahead of their respective release dates, but the added experience of viewing the films alongside the artists who created them, and getting to discuss them with their creators was absolutely incredible, and something that I am unlikely to forget. My goal for next year to get a VIP Festival Pass so I can get into even more exclusive events, etc. I look forward to attending the San Diego Film Festival in the coming years, and I hope to see it grow into a powerhouse festival that brings in the best that film has to offer!