Malibu Film Festival promises variety

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The film festival will include an improvised drama about the effects of the dot-com bubble burst, a comedy about a person trying to make a movie during a film festival and an animation dealing with slavery.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

A wide range of films will be screened at this year’s Malibu Film Festival, which opens on Sept. 16 with screenings at the Malibu Pier. There will be feature-length and short films, as well as animated movies and documentaries.

One of the films being screened at the festival is Daniel Gamburg’s “IPO.” The movie explores the lives of 12 people involved in the Internet industry, and how the “dot-com bubble burst” affected their lives

“People lost their savings and their dreams,” said Gamburg, who lives in San Francisco among the dot-comers. “I came up with the idea because I wanted to do something about relationships and how they change when things go wrong.”

Although about 90 minutes in length, “IPO” is quite different from the average feature-length film because it was made with no script, with the actors improvising all the dialogue. The actors and Gamburg rehearsed for five months, slowly developing the characters. Gamburg said everybody worked on the film together as an ensemble, with nobody being more important to the movie’s development than anybody else. And, he said, because of how “IPO” was made, it gives a feel for the viewer that one cannot get from most films.

“It feels like a documentary,” Gamburg said. “You as the viewer feel like you’re in the present, living with the characters.”

Gamburg, 34, moved to the United States from Latvia with his family when he was nine. He said his family left the country because life was not pleasant for Jews living in Latvia. Gamburg explored the subject of Eastern European Jewry in his first film, a 20-minute documentary about his grandparents that dealt with how Jewish elderly couples defined love after World War II.

Gamburg said he first became interested in film after taking a photography class at UC-Berkeley. He received a bachelor’s degree in cinema from San Francisco State in 1993. This year he will receive a master’s degree from San Francisco State in film production. He also teaches film. Gamburg founded Bare Witness Films, which produces short films in the improvisational style. “IPO” is Bare Witness’ first feature-length production.

Another film to be screened at the festival is “See This Movie,” which was written by Joe Smith and David Rosenthal, two graduates of the American Film Institute. Smith also produced the film and Rosenthal directed it. “See this Movie” is a comedy about a desperate filmmaker named Jake Barrymore (played by “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Myers) who gets his ex-girlfriend, a promoter at the Montreal Film Festival, to play his film at the festival by lying to her that he is dying. The only problem is that Jake hasn’t made the movie. So he attempts to make it at the festival while it is going on.

Smith said Rosenthal got the idea to make the movie after he was congratulated by somebody for his film at a festival despite the movie having not been screened yet, and there being no way for the person to have seen it.

“We’ve been to a lot of film festivals together,” Smith said. “The people at film festivals are pretty odd, unique and funny. So it makes for interesting characters.”

Much of “See this Movie” was actually filmed during the Montreal Film Festival, which Smith said created an element of chaos in the movie. Smith said that made Myers’ improvisational talents useful.

“He was really Mr. Clutch,” Smith said about Myers.

This is the second film Smith, 31, has produced. He originally tried acting, but said he fell in love with producing after giving it a try. Smith said he would like to one day open a resident theater company for mentally challenged children.

Animation will also be on display at the Malibu Film Festival. Neal Sopata’s “Bid ‘Em In” is an animated film just under three minutes in which a black female slave in the pre-Civil War era is put on the auction block. The film, which is animated with a pencil to give a charcoal-type and grainy feel, is set to an Oscar Robertson Jr. song of the same name in which the lyrics are a recreation of what an actual slave auctioneer would say.

“I hope that people will see in this film how horrible it is to treat people like they are less than human, and the dangers that presents,” Sopata said.

Sopata said although there is no longer slavery in this country, many Americans still think less of people when they do not look like them.

“I think probably a good example is World War II, which we saw as being so horrific because it was done [the horrors of war] to Europeans. But when something like that happens in Somalia or other parts of Africa, we think of it as less of a disaster.”

Sopata, 41, grew up in Wisconsin. His original interest was fine arts and music. He found that animation was a way he could combine those two loves. Sopata has made five short animation films. He also creates digital animation for feature-length films.