Short Film Festival a Big Score for Healdsburg

Last year Bodega Bay, this year Healdsburg: International Short Film Festival finds a new home, with Arts Festival partnership.


As if having a jazz festival in June, a beer festival this weekend, and an arts festival later this month weren't enough, Healdsburg finally has what some have been wanting for years: our very own film festival.

After all, Napa has one, Sonoma has one, Mill Valley's is seemingly never-ending: Why not our town?

Replanted from last year's Bodega Bay International Film Festival () is this year's first Healdsburg International Short Film Festival, to take place at the on Center Street over the Sept. 21-23 weekend.

At this point, 30 countries will be represented in the 51 short films on the schedule, according to the event's still-growing website at healdsburgfilmfest.org.

Replanted, too, are film festival coordinators Kirk and Pamela Demorest, formerly of L.A. and now Sonoma County residents (they live in Sebastopol). While they were happy with the successful festival in Bodega Bay last year, moving closer to the heart of the county seemed like a better idea.

"We outgrew Bodega," said Pamela Demorest. "Bodega is just so scattered around, and just a handful of people live there. It's not really a town conducive for a festival."

The two film buffs  -- in fact, Kirk Demorest is more than a "buff," currently working as a film editor in Hollywood and commuting to the North Bay on weekends -- became enamored with Healdsburg when they were looking for a place to showcase a "Best of Bodega Bay" short film screening last fall.

They contacted Kara Raymond of the, who in turn suggested local arts supporter Robert Weiss, who has a small but well-equipped private screening theater at his home off West Dry Creek.

It was in this same theater that a small group of local press was invited last month to screen several of the short films in this inaugural . Actor and festival judge Ed Begley Jr. was on hand, virtually, talking up the short film medium via Skype; Sonoma County Supervisor was in the audience as well to lend his enthusiasm.

Five short films were shown at that time -- a mere tease for the 50-plus in this year's festival.

They included:

-- A sure-to-be controversial one-act short written by Neil LaBute, the writer-director of "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors;"

--A politically challenging Australian film about dumpster diving;

--A black comedy about a children's ball game getting out-of-hand that will be included in the Family Film Screening Sessions on both Saturday, Sept. 22 and Sunday, Sept 23 during this year's events.

Other scheduled events in the short film festival include:

--An Opening Night Kickoff Screening (Friday, Sept. 21) featuring "It Was My City" from Iranian filmmaker Tina Pakravan, one of several international filmmakers who will be in attendance during the weekend;

--A Deluxe Spoonbar Double Feature Package (Saturday, Sept. 22) that includes a 10 p.m. special screening at the h2hotel's (cocktail included);

--A Sunday morning Filmmaker's Breakfast.

A complete schedule of film programs is on the event website.

Regular screenings for the short films entered in the festival are all at the Both Raymond and the Demorests were adamant about giving the Tocchini family full props for their support of the festival.

There are 10, 90-miniute sessions of short films with no repeats, separate admission for each (though weekend passes are available), scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, 11 to 5 on Sunday, plus the Family Film screening each day at 2 p.m.

Attendees are asked to fill out a simple form with their reactions and votes on each film, so "Audience Favorite" awards can be given.

A jury is then asked to pick from the Audience Favorites the prize-winning films in each genre, and overall. This year's jury includes recording artist Tom Waits, writer/producer Kathleen Brennan (his wife), actor/environmental activist Ed Begley Jr., actor Jack McGee, and digital technology developer and producer Jon Shapiro.

A selection of the films are then regularly screened on KRCB's "World of Short Films" series on Saturday nights. "The KRCB show helps the filmmakers get exposure," said Demorest. "It's given the films some press and legs they didn't have before."

While short films may seem like the training ground for wannabes,  surprisingly high levels of technical and story-telling quality are displayed in this under-30-minute medium.

They span the genres of film, including Drama, Comedy, Documentary, Romance and Animation, and the best of them even bend the genres they're exploring - just like feature-length films do.

Case in point: The Academy Award-winning Australian short "The Lost Thing," an adaptation from the book of the same name by illustrator Shaun Tan. The film will be screened during the Family screening block on both Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Raven.

"Let's face it, a lot of people put film festivals on," said Demorest. "Some of them are really good and some of them are so-so. 

"We want to be in the class of really good ones, he said. "Our screening committee is really careful about what we accept, and unfortunately we've had to turn so many people away who have something that looks good but maybe the sound's off, or the story isn't there."

The HISFF will take place on the same weekend as the annual . The two non-profits have combined forces to co-produce the weekend as the Healdsburg Arts and International Short Film Festival, with proceeds going to support the programs.

"We thought there'd be wisdom in doing the two events on the same weekend," said Raymond of the HCA. There would be a lot of cross-over between people who would enjoy the films arts but also enjoy going to the Arts Festival.

"In a small community there's only so many times you can go out and raise money to make things happen," she added.

The downtown setting of Healdsburg should offer plenty of places for festival attendees to meet, talk, eat, shop, wine taste and hang out in between film sessions.

As well as Saturday's Arts Festival in the Plaza, where 70 artists from all over the West Coast will be representing their creations, there will be a Filmmaker's Tent outside the Raven Film Center where attendees can grab a coffee and meet some of the filmmakers whose work they have just seen.

"We learned a lot from last year's festival in Bodega," said Demorest. "It's a whole different ballgame this time…. We're very excited about staying connected and moving forward with Healdsburg."

Tickets are on sale now at the festival website (www.healdsburgfilmfest.org) and on a walk-in basis at the Healdsburg Center For The Arts, 130 Plaza St.


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