Malibu Film Society Begins 10th Year of Bringing the Best Pictures to Town

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Natalie Portman speaks during a Malibu Film Society showing of “The Seventh Fire,” in 2016. Portman was a producer on the film.

In its first season, in 2009-10, the Malibu Film Society screened a total of 14 movies. When the group begins its 10th season later this month, they expect to screen nearly 75 films over the coming year—five times as many as when they started out. MFS has landed squarely on the radar screen of all the major movie studios, since so many voting members of the Academy and the various guilds live in Malibu and attend the MFS screenings. And, since the closing of Malibu’s only movie theater last year, it’s become the only game in town if someone wants to go out for a movie on the big screen. 

Longtime publicist to an impressive list of A-list movie celebrities, Malibu resident Dick Guttman recognized Malibu’s importance in Oscar voting decades ago, and was instrumental in encouraging MFS and helping to bring in some of its first studio-backed screenings. Awards campaign consultant Lisa Taback was also an early supporter, eventually joining the MFS board.

Attorney Steve Weinberg, MFS board member and president of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, explained how it all got started. 

“The origin of the Malibu Film Society, a collaboration between MJC&S, The Malibu Times and CommCinema, was to provide the Malibu community something really unique and untested—a movie experience in a beautiful setting where the community would have the opportunity of meeting and speaking with the producers, actors, directors and writers of the films, and as a community to discuss the films.

“Under the helm of Scott Tallal and a dedicated board, MFS has taken off way beyond our dreams,” Weinberg continued. “Not only is it an official Academy Awards viewing site, but MFS now has over 300 members and is the only movie theater in Malibu. Our goal of bringing the community together to share in the extraordinary experience of film has been achieved, and we have a lot to celebrate on our 10th anniversary. My law firm, Holmes Weinberg, has been pro bono legal counsel from the outset, was one of its first sponsors, and happily continues in that role.”  

One of MFS’s first members, Barbara Van Orden, continues to attend many of the MFS events. She described all the things she likes about it: “The continuous excellent choices of films, the Q & A before and after each film when available, Scott Tallal’s introduction before each film, how the business of MFS is professionally conducted, the many extra MFS events yearly, the very pleasant volunteers and the wonderful work they do under the direction of [Board member and President] Scott Hillman, the very generous pre-movie concession stand, and the very cheerful atmosphere while at MFS.”

Scott Tallal, MFS executive director, said the events that draw the biggest crowds are often the featured Q&A guests, which have included such A-list stars as Kevin Costner, Jennifer Anniston, Antonio Banderas, Natalie Portman and many others, “but sometimes just as many people turn out for below-the-line guests, like the guy who made things blow up in ‘The Hurt Locker.’ Dinner-and-a-movie nights also do well, along with our Oscar viewing parties.”

Malibu audiences really prefer a mix of different genres, Tallal said. 

“There’s a surprisingly strong amount of support for documentaries and foreign films, but the more serious dramatic films do the best,” he said. “Yet we’ve also packed the house with films as diverse as ‘BlacKKKlansman,’ ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Black Panther.’”

When asked what some of his personal favorite events were over the years, Tallal said, “The Oscar parties really stand out, and some of the Q&A guests. I think the night with Carl and Rob Reiner (father and son) was amazing—that might be my all-time favorite. They never had a chance to interact before in a public setting, and it brought the house down. But others really stand out, too. 

“Omid Djalili didn’t just intro his film, he did a half-hour of stand-up,” Tallal continued. “Jordan Peele, because he’s so amazingly talented; the producer and director of ‘La La Land,’ some of the big stars like Billy Crystal and Carol Burnett; Norman Jewison talking about ‘Fiddler on the Roof;’ dinner-and-a-movie night, such as when we did ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ with a chef preparing exactly what they were showing on screen.”

Now, membership is in high demand.

“After the local movie theater closed, our membership took off so dramatically that we had to cap it, because we want to guarantee all of our members can reserve a seat. We don’t ever want to turn someone away, so we now have a wait-list,” Tallal said, explaining why new memberships are temporarily closed. 

He said one of the best things to happen recently is that MFS can now show first-run movies. 

“This is a huge deal because now we can bring movies that are still in theaters,” he described. “We always got great films during awards season, but had a much tougher time the rest of the year. Now, we’ve extended into the summer, for the first time operating year-round.” 

MFS has become well-known in Hollywood over the past decade.  

“Industry support has grown exponentially,” Tallal said.  “There used to be studios that wouldn’t give us their films, but now they all do – there isn’t a single studio we don’t show movies for.”

Tallal also emphasized that there’s an entire team of people that keeps MFS humming along. 

“This is a massive amount of work and it wouldn’t be happening without all of our board members and volunteers,” Tallal explained. “This is one of the best functioning boards I’ve seen with any nonprofit, 13 people plus a great team of volunteers who consistently donate hours on end to make all of this happen.” Tallal wanted to thank members of the MFS board, listed at mfsreservations.org/mfs/board.html.