Malibu International Film Festival comes home

Pierce Brosnan and wife Kelly Shaye Smith are listed as patrons of the 9th Malibu International Film Festival.

The festival, in its 9th year, returns to Malibu after a three-year absence.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu International Film Festival, founded in 1999 by David Katz, has seen its share of growing pains, from leaky tents that nearly ruined film stock the first year, to insurmountable local theater rental fees, requiring an abrupt decampment from its titled location to nearby Santa Monica for all screenings the last several years, begging the question of exactly how Malibu-ish was the festival?

But the MIFF has survived logistical challenges, such as shortening the festival’s duration from seven to three days, being unable to screen locally and a constant rotating list of sponsors, to offer some star-studded galas and an international slate of features, documentaries and short films over the years. The MIFF, slated to run April 4-6, is in its ninth year.

“This year, we’re showing that the Malibu International Film Festival is here to stay,” Katz said. “It’s dedicated solely to Malibu, with no events in Santa Monica.”

This year, the festival lists local supporters such as Barbra Streisand, Pierce Brosnan and Keely Shaye Smith, as well as Katz’s father, producer Marty Katz.

Some other changes this year will be in the jury system for the festival awards.

“This year, the awards will be selected entirely by the audiences,” Katz said. “We will offer online ballots to download, as well as ballots at the door, and audiences will themselves select the winner, which we will tabulate and announce at the closing night party at Taverna Tony’s.”

Malibu audiences will have the chance to judge films featuring local actors and filmmakers, such as Michael Madsen, starring in an Irish production titled “Strength and Honour,” and Dominic Scott Kay, the 11-year-old budding filmmaker who is screening two of his own short films, “Saving Angelo” and “Grampa’s Cabin.”

Also featured will be a selection of Afro-centric films and documentaries, such as “Sliding Liberia,” a story of “war, peace and surfing,” and “Africa Unite,” a documentary by Stephanie Black about the family of late reggae icon Bob Marley and their journey to Ethiopia for the annual Africa Unite concert.

Katz said there will be invited guests from the major studios’ distribution departments, and that all the producers, directors and many of the actors in films scheduled to be screened will be on hand during the festival.

When interviewed some three weeks before the festival, both Katz and festival Creative Director Frank Giarmona were somewhat vague on certain details of the lineup. “Our list of world premieres isn’t 100 percent complete,” Katz said.

“The official schedule will be announced next week,” Giarmona said. “People submit their work from all over the world and sometimes they are in different states of completion. We even received one submission without any soundtrack, but they promised to finish it before the selection process was closed.”

The festival’s Web site,, now lists a selection of four documentaries and four feature films, and 21 shorts.

The MIFF film selection process remains unknown. Typically, film festivals have a jury process with a panel of high-profile experts screening all submissions before a slate is selected, with a separate panel of judges to anoint the festival award winners.

“Our screening jury prefers to remain anonymous,” Katz said. “We have members of the Writers’ and Directors’ Guilds and past award winners, but we also have housewives and plumbers.

“Some films we automatically disqualify because they have unnecessary nudity or drug use,” Katz continued. “Or maybe they just don’t look good or [don’t] have a story. In the end, you can shoot with a tin can and the production values might not be great. But if the story is good, we’re open to it.”

Some of the financial aspects of running a film festival have soured local supporters on Katz’s efforts, which was a big factor in moving the festival out of town.

David Lyons ran the Malibu movie theater in Cross Creek Shopping Plaza before it was damaged in a 2006 fire. He said he initially supported Katz’s vision of a local film festival, but that his relationship with Katz soured when he questioned film festival expenses.

Katz took the festival to Santa Monica in 2005 and when asked last year when would it return to Malibu, he said: ” When we gain the financial support of the film industry community of Malibu, we will be honored to screen films in Malibu. The rate to screen films in Malibu is $20,000 for a 190-seat theater; in Santa Monica it is $5,000 for a 400-seat theater. When we can afford to screen in Malibu, we will.”

For now, the festival will screen all its films at Malibu High School, and the opening night party will take place at the Malibu West Beach Club and the closing night party will be at Taverna Tony’s, which has been a venue in the past.

The Malibu International Film Festival will take place April 4-6. Tickets to all screenings, events and opening/closing night parties are available online at or