Second annual Malibu Celebration of Film is a wrap

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FILMS'COOL' competitors, from left: Candace Infuso, Lori Johnson, Justin Guerrieri (undergrad winner), Kellen Moore (high school winner), Kevin Horowitz and Jacob Schwartz at the Malibu Celebration of Film's presentation Friday at Pepperdine University. Photo by Dana Fineman / TMT

The sheer joy on student filmmaker Kellen Moore’s face on Friday after he was announced the winner of the high school division of the “FILMS’COOL’ competition set the tone for the rest of the weekend of the second annual Malibu Celebration of Film. A Moorpark High School senior when he made the film “Water Damage,” Moore just couldn’t believe he won.

“I’ve had an unfortunate run so far … I’m used to walking away thinking, ‘Oh well, maybe I’ll do better next time,'” he said.

Moore will receive $1,000 from sponsor Malibu Kiwanis Club and mentoring from an industry professional. It’s the mentoring that Kellen said he is looking forward to the most. By chance, his second grade art teacher, Rosalind Mitzenmacher, was in the audience.

“He always had a gift,” his former teacher said.

The undergraduate division winner was “Rocketboy,” a film by Justin Guerrieri, a student at USC School of Cinema-Television whose ambitions lie in making feature films. He describes “Rocketboy” as “every kid’s dream” and is working on a feature-length version of the tale of the adventures of a precocious boy flying his own rocket through space.

Other highlights of the three-day MCOF included a Saturday screening of the silent film “Heart O’ the Hills,” a 1919 film starring Mary Pickford. It was restored and re-released by the Pickford foundation in 1999, and the Malibu Coast Chamber Orchestra performed local Maria Newman’s score live. After the screening she described the challenges and process involved in scoring a silent film and answered questions from the audience.

Film critics Leonard Maltin (“Movie Guide”) and Kenneth Turan, (Los Angeles Times critic), on Sunday discussed the art of film critique, which “starts with the love of film,” Turan said. They discussed their feeling that as Turan put it, “Hollywood has abandoned us” by assuming “you guys [the audience] are stupid.”

“This is why we have contempt for a lot of these [new] films. They’re not films-they’re product,” Maltin said.

“I’m not anti-Hollywood,” he added, “I’m anti-bad-movie.”

Maltin said great films, like “Once” or “Waitress,” don’t have a traditional “hook” so they cannot be marketed as aggressively. Therefore, he said, they are not seen as profitable and people don’t hear about them. Maltin and Turan went on to say they worry about the future of films in this age of the “Blockbuster mentality,” as Maltin describes it.

All films screened during the three-day festival have won awards from festivals around the world.

“Grace is Gone,” directed by James C. Strouse and starring co-producer John Cusack, has won several awards including the Gen Art and Atlantic film festivals. The feature-length drama, which screened Saturday night, follows a young father’s actions immediately after being notified of his wife’s death while on duty in Iraq. He cannot bring himself to tell his young daughters, so he instead takes them on a cross-country trip to an amusement park.

“An excellent film,” said Steve Cornwell, a student visiting from England, “but it was quite emotional and rather depressing. It stays with you even after you’ve left the theater. You realize how many lives this war is truly affecting in so many different ways and it’s quite a sobering thought.”

“Grace is Gone” is set to be released in November.

MCOF Executive Director Kim Jackson considers the event a success because of the quality of the films screened and the caliber of panel participants.

“This really was the best of the best,” she said.

She was disappointed, however, with lackluster attendance. “We worked really hard to put together a celebration of film for the Malibu community. The quality of the films was there-these films have all won awards at other festivals. We had advance publicity weeks ahead of time and tickets available at three different locations.”

One big difference between last year’s MCOF and this one-director Robert Altman, the late, legendary director, was given an award and a celebrity packed party at Malibu’s Castle Kashan was given in his honor last year. There were also more than 30 feature length and short films screened, rather than the 11 this year.

While this year’s parties were well attended, many theaters were only a quarter full and even the big names at the panel discussions failed to draw crowds.

“We are very disappointed that Malibu didn’t respond better,” Jackson said. “We learned a lot.” Next year, for example, Jackson said they would start marketing the individual films. The festival is young and, she notes, “Many other successful festivals started out much like this.”