The fifth annual Sunscreen Film Festival West celebrates independent and local filmmakers when it takes place at the Hermosa Beach Community Theatre Oct. 6 to 8.
SSFF features documentaries, feature films, shorts, web series, animation as well as panel discussions covering a wide variety of filmmaking topics. “Run Paddle Chug!,” a documentary about the 40-plus year history of the Ironman in Hermosa Beach, which opened last year's festival, will return for a repeat showing Friday, Oct. 6, at 6:45 p.m.
Festival Director Robert Enriquez said there are more than 50 films in SSFF this year, including the opening film, “Unacknowledged,” a documentary that looks at evidence of the existence of UFO's, which screens Friday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m.
From writers to directors to cinematographers, Enriquez said there are a wealth of people in the movie business living in the South Bay as well as taking part in the festival. He hopes SSFF can continue to bring those talents together.
“There is kind of this synergy that's being created where people can collaborate together and hopefully we'll keep building and making more films,” Enriquez said.
Elizabeth Blake-Thomas' feature film “Pretty Outrageous” was shot last summer over a 10-day period entirely in Hermosa Beach using the beach and the Community Center as her main locations.
Thomas said “Pretty Outrageous,” which screens Saturday, Oct. 7, beginning at 10:45 a.m., is about three girls who enter a singing competition, but have to find a fourth member who is over 16 years old through “hilarious” auditions.
“I love writing stories for children because I think in this day and age the kids are quit overexposed to sex, violence, crime,” said Blake-Thomas, who added her daughter Isabella is one of the stars of the film.
Blake-Thomas said “Pretty Outrageous” is her seventh feature and was shot for $36,000. Besides the challenge of a small budget, she was working with mostly non-professional actors.
“I love showing this is what you can shoot for $36,000 with one camera, with this amount of crew, this amount of cast,” she said.
After living in Hermosa Beach for three years, Blake-Thomas said she is thrilled to debut her film in her hometown.
“In all honesty, when I made it, this was the only festival I really wanted it to go into because I think it's so wonderful,” she said.
Phil Cook, who has lived in Manhattan Beach for more than 40 years, said he “bummed” around the beach and played volleyball until one day in the mid 1970s he realized he needed to get a real job. He got into financial advising and built up his company, Cook and Associates in Manhattan Beach, until one day he decided to get into acting.
“I built that business and one day I woke up and said, 'Hey, I can do what I want to do now. I don't have to worry about tomorrow,'” recalled Cook. “So I said, 'Why don't I try some acting?'”
Since he got the acting bug, Cook took acting classes from Enriquez and has appeared in student projects, a commercial, small roles in a couple films and the short “Just Remain” that will screen as part of “Shorts Block One” Saturday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
“It's about a banker who loses his way emotionally,” he said of the short that was shot in Mexico last year. “I'm the hitchhiker, kind of like a wandering guru, spiritual person and I help him find his way back.”
Debi Faris founded the Garden of Angels, a nonprofit that cares for abandoned children, and helped pass the Safely Surrounded Baby Law, which was formed to encourage parents to surrender an infant within 72 hours of birth with no questions asked.
“She's a normal housewife in Los Angeles who has been burying dumpster babies for the past 20 years,” said Hermosa Beach filmmaker Damien Stafford, who wrote, directed and produced the narrative short “Discarded,” based on Faris' life, that screens as part of the “Short Blocks Two” on Saturday, Oct. 7, beginning at 12:45 p.m.
Stafford, who has lived in Hermosa Beach for 15 years, said Faris has buried 115 infants over the past 20 years. He said that Faris was “apprehensive” about telling her story.
“I had to sit down with her and reassure her that I wouldn't sugarcoat anything,” Stafford said. “I would tell exactly how it is and it's really quit shocking for a lot of people ... I was blessed that she returned my call and secondly gave me permission to tell that part of her life story.”
Stafford hopes his short sheds light on the Safely Surrounded Baby Law.
“A lot of people don't respond well to the badge and they think they're going to be persecuted,” Stafford said. “But it's not about persecution, it's about saving a life. They don't ask questions. Most of the time they don't say anything, they just take the child and walk away. You have up to a certain point to retrieve if you regret it. I think its 72 hours. You can come back and say, 'I feel bad I want to take the child back.'”
Ben Sharples grew up in Manhattan Beach and started making movies with his friends when he was 13 years old.
“We were making those crazy dumb action movies with a VHS camcorder and it always ended when a guy gets thrown off the balcony,” recalled Sharples.
Sharples, who grew up playing tennis at Live Oak Park and the Manhattan Country Club, was 8 years old when he first competed in tennis tournaments. He played in high school before playing tennis for UC Berkeley. He got burned out on tennis but later returned to his love when he began teaching the sport.
His film “Gentlemen's Fury,” makes its theatrical debut Saturday, Oct. 7, at 5 p.m., and tells the story of a tennis pro who deals with anger issues by joining a “Fight Club” like tennis league. But then people start dying.
“Gentlemen's Fury,” which was directed by his wife Marissa Hall, was shot in several locations in Manhattan Beach, including his parent's home on Valley Drive, the Manhattan Beach Country Club parking lot and Bell Avenue near Sand Dune Park.
The script was also co-written by Clint Gardner, another beach cities native who went to Manhattan Beach schools with Sharples.
“It's super fitting and meaningful that we're premiering theatrically at Sunscreen because it feels like a South Bay type of movie,” Sharples said.
“Gentlemen's Fury” also debuts on iTunes and Amazon in November.
Tony Armer started the Sunscreen Film Festival in 2006 and it has been held in St. Petersburg, Fla. ever since. Enriquez, whose production company Red Baron Films is based at the MBS Media Campus in Manhattan Beach, teamed in 2013 with Armer to bring the festival to the South Bay. In 2014, SSFF became a Hermosa Beach-centered event.
The screening of “Run Paddle Chug!,” which Enriquez directed with the help of a crew of mainly Mira Costa High School students, will be a fundraiser for Live Like Doug, a program that offers support for children who have lost a loved one
Enriquez believes that SSFF can become a showcase for independent film.
“Once they go here, hopefully they will get other festivals or maybe get a distribution deal,” Enriquez said. “But some of them you'll only be able to see them on your phone or your computer download steam services and then they're gone.”