Four Malibuites featured in film festival

"West Bank Story," directed by Ari Sandel, will screen at the Malibu Film Festival April 17.

Four films at this year’s Malibu Film Festival have Malibu ties. The films range in scope from a feature-length documentary about New York City to a short comedy about two competing falafel stands in the West Bank.

By Kevin Connelly/Special to The Malibu Times

Most of the films at the 6th Malibu Film Festival will be screened outside of town at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica this year, but that does not mean there will be a lack of Malibu flavor at the event-flavor that will come in the form of five Malibu filmmakers whose works will be screened at the festival this week from April 14 to 18.

Director Adam Ross, who moved to Malibu more than a year ago from Santa Monica via New York City, explained his artistic aspirations regarding his feature length film, “Between the Bridges,” in a recent telephone interview.

“I really just want to create some good stuff that resonates with people in whatever I take on artistically,” he said. “Whether it be music [Ross is a musician as well] or film, I want my work to have some sort of human element to it.”

According to the synopsis, the film is about how a “hip New York artists’ community struggles against development and gentrification on the Brooklyn waterfront.” Ross calls the documentary a microcosm of the post-9/11 world.

Ross, who is in his 30s, said his film is not a polemic. He said he intends to introduce film viewers to New York City and to its rich history. The one-hour 20-minute long documentary focuses on a 10-block radius on the Brooklyn waterfront, which, amongst other things, includes an ancient boxing gym where Robert De Niro trained for “Raging Bull” and Hilary Swank trained for “Million Dollar Baby.”

A native New Yorker, Ross has lived all over the world, but said he loves his new home in Malibu.

“I have found an amazingly inspiring environment in Malibu to work on this New York project,” he said. “I love the physical beauty of Malibu. I see a red-tailed hawk and I’m touched. Malibu has really grounded me.”

“Between the Bridges” will be making its world premiere on April 17 at 3 p.m. at the Aero Theatre.

The 21-minute short, “The Big Empty,” starring Selma Blair (“Storytellers”), is J. Lisa Chang’s first film, with which she teamed with her husband, Newton Thomas Sigel, to direct. Chang and Sigel, a cinematographer (“The Usual Suspects”), have resided in Malibu since 1998.

Chang’s synopsis described the film as “a bittersweet tale of Alice, her vagina and the infinite nature of the tundra.”

“You know, this is my movie,” Chang said, “but if I attempted to explain it, I would probably sound insane. You’re just going to have to go and see it.”

Chang, 38, said she was lucky to have met George Clooney (“Ocean’s Eleven”) and Steven Soderbergh (“Sex, Lies & Videotape”), who own the production company, Section 8. Clooney and Soderbergh are the executive producers of “The Big Empty.” Chang said they helped her and her husband with the casting, landing Blair and others.

“The Big Empty,” listed as a “dramedy,” is making its West Coast premiere at the festival, playing at 9:30 p.m. on April 16 at the Aero Theatre.

Playing on the same day, Sean Carter’s 16-minute long film, “Replaced,” will make its world premiere at 3 p.m.

Carter, a 27-year-old Malibu resident, believes his short film is different than most others.

“This movie has more to offer than a typical short,” Carter said in a telephone interview. “The film is more suspenseful than most shorts. There’s a murder mystery surrounding it. There’s a lot of energy to it.”

Carter’s synopsis reads: “Chris thinks he’s found the girl of his dreams. A sweet, good natured florist who promises to be his ticket to a better life. But trying to separate from his current lover proves to have dire consequences.”

Carter went to film school at NYU, but said he considers Malibu his permanent home. His parents have owned a home in Malibu since he was born. Attempting to pursue a career in film, Carter said he wants to remain bicoastal. He said he enjoys the dichotomy of New York City and Malibu, saying he likes the serenity of Malibu as well as the bustle of the big city.

Anchoring the Malibuites at 9:30 p.m. on April 17 will be Ari Sandel’s “West Bank Story-an admitted play on words with the famed “West Side Story.” This connection becomes all the more apparent with Sandel’s synopsis: “A musical comedy set in the fast-paced, fast-food world of competing falafel stands in the West Bank … David, an Israeli soldier, falls in love with the beautiful Palestinian cashier, Fatima, despite animosity between the families’ dueling restaurants. Can the couple’s love withstand a 200-year-old conflict…?”

Aware of the touchiness of the West Bank issue in the United States and abroad, Sandel said he made a conscious effort not to alienate any particular group; conversely, Sandel said he made the film to help people cope with the West Bank conflict in a different manner.

“This is a pro-peace film,” Sandel explained. “I set out with three goals in making this film: I wanted to make people laugh, I wanted to provide a positive message, and I wanted to be even-handed in my treatment of the conflict.

“I want my audience to let their guard down,” Sandel continued. “I know this is a controversial subject, but I’m attempting to show this subject through a new lens.”

“This film serves a purpose,” he said.

Sandel, 30, graduated with a master’s degree in film from USC and has already been signed professionally, where he hopes to continue directing.

Although he currently lives in Hollywood, Sandel spends time in Malibu, where he says his parents have lived for the past eight years.

Information about festival show times and purchasing tickets can be found at