In September 2000, Monterey is set to host an ambitious, world-class international film festival.
Thursday, October 14, 1999
Cannes on the Pacific? Sundance in Seaside? More than a decade after the demise of the first, short-lived attempt to hold an annual film festival on the Monterey Peninsula, a local group has announced plans for a second, much more ambitious Monterey Bay International Film Festival (MBIFF), scheduled for Sept. 22 through Oct. 1, 2000.
Ambitious? How about 350 films from around the world, most of them U.S. or even world premieres, shown on a dozen local screens over a 10-day period, complete with workshops, lectures, panel discussions, and the usual glittering parties that are attendant upon such film extravaganzas. The focus will be on new American independent films, but pavilions will spring up to showcase other films by region: Middle East pavilions, Far East pavilions, Europe, Russia and so on.
All the details are not finalized, but the scope, planning and groundwork completed over the past two years make one wonder how they''ve kept it under wraps so long.
Sure, they''ll start slowly. In its debut year, say festival co-artistic director John Farmanesh-Bocca, they will probably only screen about 140 films, or even less. He and co-artistic director Vince Ricotta, an L.A.-based film actor, will travel the international film festival circuit over the next year--Cannes, Milan, Toronto, Telluride--to drum up entries for the Monterey festival. So far, the team has no actual films in hand, but they''re putting out the word aggressively, and have already received submission inquiries on their Web site from filmmakers in the United Kingdom and Israel.
They also have no firm promises from any local cinemas to screen their films, although the festival''s promotional brochure and Web site state that films will be shown at the Lighthouse, Dream, State, Outdoor Forest and the as-yet-unbuilt six-screen Resort Theaters on Monterey''s Alvarado Street. Clearly, a lot of work still has to be done, but, as Ricotta and Farmanesh-Bocca repeat, they''re still a year out.
Why will this festival succeed when the first Monterey film festival collapsed after its second season in 1988, heavily in debt? According to the man brought in to handle the money angle, festival president Bill Liles, who was 1998 co-chair of the NCAA before moving to Carmel, this festival will depend on national corporate sponsorship rather than local fundraising.
"The first film festival had all local funding sources, no formal budget, and did not control spending to maximize return," Liles says. Plenty of advance planning is also key, Liles says. "Most people who put on a film festival get together six months ahead of time. We''ll have more than two years."
American Airlines has signed on as the official festival airline, and the DoubleTree Hotel in Monterey will be the official convention hotel, but other corporate sponsorships are still under negotiation. Despite the lack of hard cash behind them at this point, the festival organizing team is confident plans will go forward, and have thrown themselves into the project body and wallet.
"We''ve put $135,000 of our own money into this, and a year and a half of our personal lives," admits Ricotta. "That''s a testament of our commitment."
So far, local enthusiasm for the project seems high. DoubleTree Hotel Manager Robert De Voe, who also heads the Monterey Peninsula Visitors and Convention Bureau, has agreed to serve on the new festival''s board of directors. Says Devoe, "This will be much bigger than the AT&T [Pro-Am golf tournament at Pebble Beach] and the Monterey Jazz Festival, not the first year, but by 2001 or ''02."
"It''s a great idea, and it should be done," maintains Myles Williams, co-owner of Big Sur''s Post Ranch Inn who was on the board of directors of the first two Monterey film festivals in 1987 and ''88.
Former Monterey County Supervisor Sam Karas, on the board of the ''87 festival and next year''s venture, also supports the project. "There''s a right time and right place, and this is the right time and place for an international film festival," Karas asserts.
There are literally hundreds of film festivals held every year around the world. Why hold another? John McKenna, membership director at the American Film Marketing Association, which has given its blessing to the new Monterey festival, says that a well-run film festival in Monterey in late September could give L.A.-based filmmakers a venue closer to home for showing their new films before taking them to the annual Milan film festival in October.
"It''s not a bad idea, getting some buzz first, coming up the coast to promote your film before marketing it in Milan," he says. That advantage, if it is one, may be lost the second year, when festival organizers plan to move the event into November.
The 10-day film festival itself is only a part--albeit, the most showy part--of what festival organizers want to accomplish. Their overarching goal is to "establish the Monterey Peninsula as the artistic sanctuary of the Americas," reviving the area''s long-suffering artistic reputation with film as the new catalyst.
"The Monterey Peninsula has always been an artistic sanctuary, whether it''s Jack London, or Henry Miller, or any of the actors, painters, photographers and other artists who have been here," says Farmanesh-Bocca. "So why not film as well? It''s a perfect location, close to Hollywood and the Los Angeles film industry. We''ve got the gorgeous coastline, and an arts-savvy local population."
The festival''s long-term goal, is to promote arts education in Monterey County. A portion of all monies raised from corporate sponsorships will go to a youth Arts Education Endowment, which will fund local projects designed to encourage young filmmakers and artists. The first big endowment-funded project is a "Dreams of Youth" screenwriting workshop and contest, open to young filmmakers under age 20 from around the world. The winner will be awarded a four-year scholarship to a uni-
versity film program in New York City.
Several other youth outreach projects are still under development, but the centerpiece of festival plans is the creation of an arts high school on the Monterey Peninsula, funded initially by the MBIFF''s Endowment Fund, and then turned over to the Monterey County Office of Education for operation as a public "magnet" school, drawing artistically inclined kids from throughout the county. Farmanesh-Bocca says that planning for the high school and endowment fund will be carried out irrespective of the success or failure of the film festival, although the arts high school won''t see the light of day "for at least five years."
It''s the educational goals of this film festival that will attract both filmmakers and film celebrities to the event, Ricotta believes. "If they know their films will contribute to giving youth an outlet for their creative energy, they''ll want to be a part of it," he says.
And what about our area''s most notable film celebrity? Have they contacted Clint Eastwood yet, to solicit his participation, or at least endorsement? "Nope," Liles says. And they don''t plan to, although, Liles says, "he certainly would be most welcome."
For more information visit www.MBIFF.org