How to Enjoy the Catalina Film Festival . . . In Long Beach

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable. Photo courtesy of Aaron Lieber/Catalina Film Festival

For eight years, the Catalina Film Festival (CFF) has earnestly brought a range of fascinating independent features, shorts, documentaries and animated films to the big screen, selected for their imagination, creativity and ingenuity. The fest is also a nonprofit, public-benefit corporation that funds local charity groups and Catalina’s economy during its tourism off-season.

For being secluded on an island and 50 miles away from Hollywood, this fest boasts an impressive roster of stars, from Nicolas Cage to Emmy Rossum, who visit every year. This year, CFF spills over into Long Beach for a partnership that allows it to celebrate on the mainland as well as give a hat tip to a fellow seaside city. For the first time, locals won’t have to take a chartered cruise to Catalina to check out the array of films (although, that’s still an option, as well as party cruises to and from the island to the Queen Mary Terminal).

This year’s programming stretches over five days, most of it in Long Beach, with its “launch” and “landing” premieres bookending the fest. Besides screenings, workshops and panels will be offered to filmmakers looking to network, improve their craft and learn how to navigate the industry. For information on getting to Catalina, or for a primer on the dress code for each day, the festival website includes a handy guide with appropriate links.

Here’s what to see in Long Beach, and who’s coming out:

Wednesday opens the festival, with a morning check-in, industry mixer and finance workshop at the Courtyard Marriott in Downtown Long Beach (500 E. First St., Long Beach, 562-435-8511). The feature film Press Play will be screened.

Actress/filmmaker Rosie Perez and director Ramon Rodriguez will appear at the Art Theatre to receive the Humanitarian Award for their documentary Pa’lante (Forward), which follows survivors of the Puerto Rican hurricanes Irma and Maria and how those families are rebuilding their lives from catastrophe. CFF hosts an opening-night party at the Harbor bar (130 Pine Ave., Long Beach, 562-269-0832) that benefits the hurricanes’ victims through the nonprofit organization 100 Roofs.

Love Possibly. Photo courtesy Catalina Film Festival

The opening-night film also screens at the theater tonight, followed by a Q&A. Love Possibly is a documentary that follows a young virgin named Alex who is obsessed with finding love, to the point of ordering a mail-order Moldovan bride, Lana. Also in tonight’s documentary block: Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, about the professional surfer and shark-attack survivor. A Q&A with the filmmaker also follows that screening.

Thursday’s schedule includes a spotlight interview with Academy Award-winning actor and Stanley Kramer Social Artist Award honoree Richard Dreyfuss by Deadline’s Geoff Boucher at the Courtyard Marriott. There’ll also be a block of animated short films, a screenwriter panel and a Wes Craven Horror-Thriller Block at the Art Theatre. CFF is the only festival to have a Craven-sanctioned award in his name, and it will be awarded to the best spooky short in the lineup.

Bullitt County. Photo courtesy Catalina Film Festival

Also screening tonight is the feature Bullitt County; set in 1977, a group of men celebrating a bachelor party hunt for buried Prohibition money on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, soon realizing they can’t trust one another.

Sunday is the last day the fest takes place in Long Beach. Awards for the best conservation, horror-thriller, student and animation films are awarded at the Courtyard Marriott, with separate ceremonies to honor the best documentary, short film, domestic and international features.

Other noteworthy appearances of actors will take place in Catalina on Friday and Saturday, including that of singer/actress Ashanti, who will receive the Avalon Award. Actor/comedian Kevin Hart will be given CFF’s Mack Sennett “King of Comedy” award, while actor Rob Riggle gets the Spotlight Award (and if he doesn’t include a shoutout to the “fucking Catalina Wine Mixer” from his film Step Brothers, I’ll be very disappointed). Steve Guttenberg, Missi Pyle and Johanna Braddy will personally present their feature film Miss Arizona, while Family Ties actress Justine Bateman will screen her short film Five Minutes.

For more info and tickets for the Catalina Film Festival, go to catalinafilm.org.

Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.

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