Hometown heroes with international scope

"Serial" is directed by Scott Wells and will screen Sept. 27 & 30.

Malibu filmmakers featured at fest.

By Jody Stump/Special to The Malibu Times

Next week, our neighborhood mini-cineplex plays host to an eclectic array of independent films worthy of global attention for the annual Malibu International Film Festival. This year, some of the freshest and most interesting offerings come from Malibu natives who grew up here and filmed the locations they know best. Look for Geoffrey’s, Broad Beach and the Pier. You’ll see shops you recognize at Cross Creek and homes on Pacific Coast Highway and Point Dume.

One local honoree is Justin Lisson, a junior at Malibu High School, who has the distinction of being the youngest filmmaker ever chosen by the international jury. He has produced a film that in a mere 3 minutes captures the angst of adolescent identity. With encouragement from his writer/ producer dad, Lisson has been making short films since the seventh grade. “Be Who You Are, Listen to What You Want” originated when he asked his dad, “Who do you think listens to this?” as they picked up some gangsta’ rap scanning the car radio. Lisson’s conclusion? What you listen to does not reflect who you are. Lisson collaborated with two friends, David Denberg and Allen Starnes, who share in the credits. “Be Who You Are” will screen Sept. 27 at 7:15 p.m. and Oct. 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Another Malibu student, who has since graduated from UCSB’s excellent film program, produced another short that will be featured on the Sept. 27 and again on the Sept. 30. In his senior year, Scott Wells noticed how easy it was to craft good-looking cinema using digital video rather than the Super-16 he was using. Rather than switch, he toyed with this observation until it became a movie-within-a-movie noir thriller, his festival entry, “Serial.” The story weaves individual character threads forward and back about a mysterious moviemaker, the ill-fated waitress he casts to star and the detective who seeks her killer. Although Wells’ film preceded “Full Frontal,” he says the blur between reality and perception is similar and “Serial” has shades of “Memento” as well.

“Serial” was written in a three-day creative burst and filmed in a flash on a three-week grant, but it has spent two years being polished in post-production. Much of that work took place in Wells’ Malibu home and his parents, Lori and Larry Gray, are proud to be listed in the credits as Craft Services, a catch-phrase for midnight snacks and moral support. And, when you watch “Serial,” listen. That’s a full 40-piece orchestra directed by Dan Redfeld supplying the moody crescendos that underlie the thrills.

Another Malibuite featured at the festival is TV actor Ash Adams with his family drama, “After the Past.” Like most actors, Adams spends a great deal of time thinking about back-stories, the events in a character’s past that create their personalities. He found the most interesting dynamics were in family feuds and got an idea for one that caught hold and wouldn’t let go. The result, “After the Past,” is a little bit “Big Chill” and a lot “Dinner with Andre.” It tells the story of estranged brothers who come together for the funeral of their abusive father and wind up talking about their childhood.

“After the Past” is a full-length feature produced on the shortest of shoestrings, a film so beloved by everyone who heard the tale that Adams received unprecedented contributions of time and talent. Fellow Malibu resident Amy Madigan shares production credit and supplied the film’s narrative and much of its emotional core. Alex Marquez, who is now editing the upcoming blockbuster “Alexander the Great” for Oliver Stone, cut their $4,000 film. Most of the film was shot informally at locations you will recognize all over Malibu. The film screens Sept. 27 at 9:30 p.m.

There are many other outstanding entries to see. Visit the festival’s official Web site for a synopsis of all the films showcased at this year’s events and to confirm show times: www.malibufilmfestival.com.

For tickets, go to www.ticketweb.com or call TicketWeb at 1.866.468.3399. Single screenings are $8 or pay $100 for an all-screening pass. For $250, you get admission to all films and the parties.