Tenth Annual Borrego Springs Film Festival A Success
Last updated 2/10/2023 at 1:18pm
For the past 10 years the Borrego Springs Film festival, as part of the Borrego Springs Festivals Foundation, has attempted to bring our community an eclectic mix of viewpoints and creative insight. We do this by annually offering dozens upon dozens of films, panel discussion, lectures, special screenings, and activities at the Library and BSPAC.
Now, if by chance you've assumed that the BSFF is here to simply showcase a bunch of films in January, let's change that notion. Our mission is to present artistic and educational opportunities to everyone in town. As such, you're always welcome to join in.
For example, we screened the 'Dark Sky' documentary "Defending The Dark" at the library, and also included a lecture from world renowned astronomer Dr. Douglas Arion. His wisdom, along with the filmmakers joining him on the panel, made for an invigorating talk about our own community. The discussion spanned the spectrum between art and science, a wonderful mix. Best of all it was free.
Also, on the day that preceded the festival, the BSFF screened the very first film that initially kicked off the yearly festival: "The Desert Rats." This war movie classic was not only a productions that was shot here in the region, it was also a film that gave us a great reason to showcase local cinema historian Fred Jee's knowledge about regional Hollywood history. Fred gave a multi-media presentation about films made from the 1920 right on through the 2020's.
The BSFF plans to offer these kinds of opportunities often.
Follow us online, borregospringsfilmfestival.org, to learn about the monthly BSFF Film Series we're sponsoring, for instance. Our desert village has supported the BSFF during our first decade of existence. We want to keep this community collaboration going, continuing into the next 10 years, and becoming integral to our town's culture.
Before we look too far ahead, our job in this article is to reflect back on the 2023 event. The first place to start is for us to take a moment and recognize the extensive input from a long time writer for the Borrego Sun: Michael Saddler. Michael has been reviewing his favorite BSFF films since the festival's inception. Sadly, he passed late in 2022 and didn't get the chance to be a part of this year's milestone. In *tribute of Michael, members of the committee have written their own reviews of films for the 2023 BSFF. In addition, we're sharing some personal perceptions from the attending filmmakers themselves, showing you why Borrego Springs is evolving into a modest, yet world-class, festival event for true independent filmmakers.
So, without further ado, here's a quick look at the 2023 season, a few film reviews, some insight about the filmmakers, some filmmaker's testimonials, a list of the award winners, and, hopefully, an overall collection of information that will entice you to be a part of the BSFF well into the 21st century.
FILM REVIEWS FROM BSFF COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Vivir Toda La Vida (Living All of Life) won the 2023 BSFF award for Best Hispanic/Latin film, and with good reason. The short film from Mexico, written and directed with aplomb by Marlen Rios-Farjat, grabbed my attention from the first frame and kept me riveted until the final credits. It's a wonderfully realistic production about a middle-aged woman who has been abandoned by her husband and is living in a state of angry denial and grief.
The production is anchored by the strong performance of Paloma Woolrich who plays the lead, Susana, and is nicely complimented by Carmen Delgado who plays a free-spirited neighbor, Gloria. Gloria helps bring Susana out of her depression with laughter, music, and dancing, and teaches her to find pleasure in the things and relationships that make life truly worth living. In one of my favorite scenes, the two ladies go out dancing, meet a pair of pleasant gentlemen at the club, and the four of them return home a bit tipsy, where Susana is suddenly confronted with the revelation that her husband has no intention of returning to her. The emotional tenor of the scene flips quickly, but dramatically, and the superb acting is a pleasure to watch.
In the film's conclusion, tragedy returns to their lives, but now Susana has the tools to better manage and accept the cards that life has dealt. We know that Susana will never be the same as she once was, but she will find her happiness because she has learned how to live life fully. And that's what living is all about.
There were so many great films this year, but definitely one of my favorites was a historical dramatic short – based on a true story, as they say – entitled, This Wild Abyss. The film relates the early years of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, located in the San Gabriel mountains near Los Angeles. Writer-producer, Matthew Carlson, who also co-stars in the film, wrote an impressive script that manages to "humanize" his characters – real life titans of 20th century astronomy, while lending an appropriate sense of awe to the discoveries that were made there.
The main story is about a former cowboy, Milton Humason who, without a high school diploma, managed to get a job at the Observatory and eventually worked his way up to become an assistant to astronomer Edwin Hubble. Together, Humason and Hubble used the massive telescope at Mt Wilson to measure galaxy distances and find evidence proving that the universe is expanding. This discovery would forever change the way we understand our reality.
The film is fun to watch with a subtle, classic directing style and great acting performances. But best of all, they filmed in the real Mt. Wilson Observatory, giving it true production value that can't be easily simulated on any set. The result is a wonderful short film that brought back that feeling of wonder I first enjoyed as a child.
One of the most fun and intriguing films of this season was 'A Made Bed'. This was a cute case of stuffy nose mispronunciation leading to an intricate and funny Godfather-esque solution to a home invasion by prison escapees. The young 'GodFather' like boss directs the mon/bsters under the bed, in the closet and in the toy chest with experienced aplomb and good humor. It is a great example of superior writing and skillful direction. It was a deserving winner of the 'Golden Cookie Award' for Best Directing.
"Ms. Rossi 2 : Ms. Rossi Takes The Cake" won People's Choice Award for a good reason, it was a great comedy! After the last few years of isolating, substituting drive-in movie venues, and belated scheduling, it was good to be back with great films and a great audience. It seems we were in the mood for comedies!
Speaking with Pat Battistini, the filmmaker who has submitted films with the Borrego Springs Film Festival for many seasons, was delightful. He stated that he writes the scripts and directs films on location in Italy, and hires theatrical actors who show up on time and are prepared. He is filming a series on Ms. Rossi and her adventures, if readers remember the previous Ms. Rossi and the misadventures with phone misunderstandings and the police!
The plot revolves around Ms. Rossi and her job getting bank papers signed and the misunderstandings with the client's mother and friends. Also court ordered public service gone embarrassingly wrong. The acting and characterization is superb with the audience getting in on the misadventures quickly in this short film. Pat Battistini stated that he would love to bring Ms. Rossi to Borrego some year for the Festival and we would love it too! Cheers for winning Best Short and Best Overall Awards.
The movie that caught my eye in year's BSFF was a comedy in the "Hispanic/Latin" category, "Work It Class!" Director Pol Digler is a Spanish filmmaker that offered a basic storytelling conflict, but then proceeds to pull the narrative rug out from under us. It's a bold directorial decision, and the BSFF audience was suddenly left wondering, "what the heck is going on?"
Pol's set-up is that a working class couple is expected to perform a dance to Verdi's "Ernani! Ernani, Involami" for a posh new-years-eve party, but the dancers have nervously decided to forgo the classical music for the soul funk of James Brown's "Get Up (l Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine." It's a fun idea in its own right, but then 5 seconds into the salvo of Brown's famous song, and with our expectations heightened, the music cuts out.
At that point the director offers an explanation, via overlay-text-on-the-screen, that he couldn't afford to pay for the music rights and spends the entire film complaining about it while his characters haplessly dance around in silence. Eventually the viewing audience is asked to participate in the self-referential shenanigans (which the BSFF audience did, enthusiastically clapping along), and by the end of the film we were all taken on a fun unexpected ride. It's high praise for a comedy short, one of those "you just had to be there" moments, and it's why "Work It Class!" was pure movie going cinema.
Ditë e Kuqe, Red Day. Many times, especially with the well-attended crowds at the BSFF, you're part of a communal wave that carries you along with familiar tropes and storytelling techniques. It's not unlike sitting down to a dinner with your favorite comfort food. You know what you're going to get and you're happy because of it. But, have we become too complacent ordering from the same menu? At a film fest, things end up on your plate that you'd never consider. The flavors can be weird or exciting, and often both.
My second favorite film in the BSFF was like eating mysterious deep fried insects covered in dark chocolate. Now, I'd normally never give that a go, but yet there I was, consuming the strangeness on screen and savoring every moment of it, even if I didn't know what was going on beneath crunchy shell.
The short tragic-comedy "Red Day" reveled in oddness, strange narrative leaps, and absurd moments where characters would break the 4th wall, all while serving up one storytelling morsel after another. This Kosovo film is about a mother and her deaf daughter navigating the chaos of a backstage theater event, attempting to solve the problem of not being listed on the bill, and then finally navigating to the stage. I'll admit, I couldn't quite grasp the complete narrative mayhem of their journey, but the incredible details presented along the way were a delight. For instance, a nine person chorus was singing and guiding the main characters through the story. Then, add to the mix the half naked narcissistic theater director and the daughter's valiant attempt to offer a worthwhile ill-fated performance. It all miraculously harmonized into a wonderful visual and storytelling feast.
The film was conceived and executed in one single 14 minute shot. That's really quite a staggering accomplishment. If you're adventurous and want to expand your palette, time to start considering buying a PASS to next year's festival to enjoy some of these delicious films!
More BSFF Committee Members reviews, along with attending filmmakers testimonials in the Feb. 16 issue.