Sunscreen Film Festival West returns to Hermosa Beach beginning Oct. 5 for its sixth year, bringing work from filmmakers around the globe while keeping a focus on local filmmakers and the city's history.
Festival director Robert Enriquez said the festival has been a “mom and pop” operation with many local volunteers and other people behind the scenes since its inception.
“If you want to make a film and be creative, you don’t have to leave your town, you can be right here,” said Enriquez, who makes Hermosa Beach his home. “People will support you and you can make great projects. I love that aspect of it.”
The festival opens with the documentary “Jazz V. Punk: Hermosa Beach,” Friday, Oct. 5, beginning at 8 p.m., at the Hermosa Beach Community Theater (Hermosa Beach Playhouse). The film explores how a small beach town became a hub for jazz and punk music. The festival, which runs through Sunday, Oct. 7, also showcases a total of 60 feature films, shorts, web series and documentaries, that represent approximately 20 countries.
But Sunscreen still promotes its hometown.
“It's a lot more fun when your hometown turns out for a project... there are very creative people here,” said Julie Vasquez Nunis, executive director of community involvement. “This is Hollywood’s backyard.”
'Jazz V. Punk'
“Jazz V. Punk” features interviews with members of Black Flag, Pennywise and The Minutemen, as well as saxophonist Charles Owens, and 94-year-old Gloria Cadena, who with her husband Ozzie, made jazz a stable in Hermosa Beach at The Lighthouse.
The history of The Lighthouse, the center of West Coast Jazz in its heyday, was the sole focus of a documentary until the topic morphed organically after a series of interviews, according to filmmaker Michelle Crispin.
“I turned to Julie (Nunis) and posed the question, 'Don't you think it would be interesting to explore why the heck Hermosa Beach, this tiny little beach town, ended up a hub for West Coast jazz and punk? There are all these famous artists who are known from being from here or playing here.”
Nunis added, “With documentaries you can never predict what people are going to say or the information you find out. It kind of took this wonderful turn and opened the door to another genre here in Hermosa, which is punk.”
“Everybody has an opinion on why they think both styles of music ended up flourishing here,” said Crispin. “All of those reasons are so intertwined and interesting. So many things people talk about when they talk about the punk music really align themselves with what people say when they talk about jazz. If you didn't know which they were talking about they're almost saying the same thing.”
Each year, the Sunscreen festival hopes to explore through documentaries what makes Hermosa Beach unique. The first documentary was “Run Paddle Chug!,” a film about the 40-plus year history of the Ironman in Hermosa Beach, in 2016. The festival's nonprofit Mentor Program, which gives local high school and college students the opportunity to gain experience working with film professionals, was put to use with “Run Paddle Chug!” and “Jazz V. Punk.”
Enriquez said veterans like himself often learn new things like the latest technology from the young filmmakers who sometimes use their own equipment.
“It's fun seeing these kids, some of them you watched growing up and they get into arts or they get into filmmaking and then you watch them go from high school to college,” Enriquez said.
Filmmaker Jorge Xolalpa Jr. said his feature film “Sweet Caroline” could be described as “'Black Swan' meets 'Gone Girl.'”
The “very dark” film tells the story of a therapist, told through her psychosis, who sees her double and starts treating her patients with her alter ego.
Xolalpa, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Torrance, filmed “Sweet Caroline” over 15 days in the South Bay, including Carson and Torrance, but the climax takes place at the Hermosa Beach Pier.
“Sweet Caroline” was shot with no budget.
“We took 15 days off of work and people who believed in the script, we all got together and we shot the film without money,” Xolalpa said. “ Everything was donated to us... equipment, location, food.”
"Sweet Caroline" screens Saturday, Oct. 6, beginning at 7:45 p.m., at the Hermosa Beach Community Theater.
Manhattan Beach's Erik Linthorst will debut his short “Lady Lightning” on Saturday, Oct. 6, during one of the shorts block that afternoon. This will be his second short screened at the festival, following the comedy “Turkey” in 2016.
“Lady Lightning” is a story about a bullied guy who falls in love with a comic book starring Xander the Avenger. His roommate has a Hindu statue with a legend that if you make wish it will come true. His wish was to become Xander the Avenger.
“He wakes up the next morning and the universe did a dirty little trick... instead of being Xander he's been called to be Xander's sidekick Lady Lightning,” Linthorst said. “It's one of those things like be careful what you wish for because you might get it maybe not exactly in the way you want it. So then you got to figure out, 'Can I embrace this call from the universe?'”
“Lady Lightning” was shot in one day, plus a morning, in 2016, in the apartment of the lead actor. The total budget, according to Linthorst, was under $1,000.
“I don't think it will launch my career into the stratosphere, but I think we're all pretty happy with the results given that budget and the limited resources,” Linthorst said.
Tony Armer started the Sunscreen Film Festival in 2006 and it has been held in St. Petersburg, Fla. ever since. Enriquez teamed in 2013 with Armer to bring the festival to the South Bay. In 2014, SSFF became a Hermosa Beach-centered event.
The Sunscreen festival will partner with venues around town throughout the weekend including ShockBoxx Gallery, Pacific Coast Gallery and The Lighthouse.
In addition to the screenings, panels will take place Saturday. Alyssa Weisberg, casting director for “Star Wars,” “X-Men” and “Star Trek” films, will participate in a panel at 10 a.m. Mitch Bell, vice president of production for “Marvel,” will host a panel beginning at 11 a.m.
The Hermosa Beach Historical Society will host a opening night reception at the museum from 5 to 8 p.m., and Saturday drinks from 4 to 9 p.m. Their “Happy Hour with History,” on Thursday, Oct. 18, beginning at 6 p.m., will focus on West Coast Jazz and Hermosa Beach, featuring a discussion with Ken Poston.
The Pacific Coast Gallery, located at 205 Pier Ave., hosts a festival party featuring work by punk music producer and photographer, Spot, Saturday, Oct. 6, from 7 to 10 p.m. Also on Saturday, ShockBoxx gallery, located at 636 Cypress Ave., will host a happy hour beginning at 6 p.m., before the 7 p.m. screening of “Run Paddle Chug,” also at ShockBoxx.
A jazz brunch takes place Sunday, Oct. 11, at The Lighthouse, beginning at 11 a.m.
The festival awards ceremony takes place at 1 p.m., on Oct. 7.
For more information, visit ssffwest.com.