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Santa Cruz Film Festival gears up for its best year

filmfestA talk with the local festival's movie maven, Jane Sullivan

It started eight years ago and no one knew what would happen. Would it be a flop, a raging success, or something in between? But look at it now: The Santa Cruz Film Festival (SCFF) has turned out to be a stellar annual event, and while it may not run in the industry big league film festivals, it serves a very worthwhile purpose—exposing the work of independent filmmakers. And … it educates and inspires us with innovative work every year.

This year marks the eighth year of Jane Sullivan’s project. She and original co-founder Johnny Davis launched the SCFF in 2002 and from there the fest has morphed into a massively popular annual week-long event held every May, drawing in about 7,000 people and screening 150 short and feature-length films (narratives and documentaries). It has attracted high-profile names such as David Arquette, Christopher Coppola, Neil Young and Ray Manzarek. And fundamentally—it’s fun.

GT recently caught up with Sullivan, who now spearheads the fest with a support staff of volunteers. Sullivan dished on the upcoming 2009 festival and some surprises in store for fans.

But first things first—get your submissions in. The late entry deadline (for all you procrastinators out there) is Jan. 31. Typically, the fest gets about 800 submissions a year, and will consider myriad genres of films for selection. The choosing process is determined by a screening committee and is based on a rating system that bears in mind such things as technical and artistic merit. In all honesty, Sullivan admits that of those usual 800 entries, there are a high percentage of films that are of questionable quality and won’t make the cut.

This year’s theme is “The Screening Party,” and audience members will find some jewels in the programming including more female directors this year, and more environmentally friendly films, due to the SCFF merging with another local film festival—EarthVision Environmental International Film Festival.

In addition, Sullivan says a new slice of this year’s festival will include pushing films to go beyond the SCFF by way of developing a relationship with Santa Cruz’s Community Television, where filmmakers’ movies can “have a bigger life; it’s a possibility for a filmmaker to have their work exposed more,” Sullivan says.

This year’s festival will run from May 7-16, with films screened at various theatrical venues in town. As for attracting any “big names” to the fest, Sullivan is staying quiet on that front until further down the line, but, as always, expect some cool cinematic offerings and some fascinating guests. In the meantime, one interesting tidbit is the fact that John Barrymore, Drew Barrymore’s brother, has joined the board of directors.

Per usual, this year’s fest will feature documentaries, feature films, short films, student films and movies from local filmmakers.

As for the future of the fest, Sullivan is open to what it might morph into. A perfect way to describe the fest for what it is right now? “The guy who won the Best of the Fest [award] last year said, ‘I’ve been to Sundance and Toronto. [The SCFF] is the party.’”


The Santa Cruz Film Festival is from May 7-16. For more information, visit santacruzfilmfestival.com.

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