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SAN DIEGO – Six days brought the film world to San Diego as the 18th installment of the San Diego International Film Festival stole the focus from Los Angeles last week and saw the Southern California premiere of several films that are already generating award season buzz.

That hum intensified into a roar with the red-carpet arrivals of actors Jared Harris, fresh off the Emmy Award-success of the mini-series Chernobyl, and prolific performer Laurence Fishburne.

Things kicked off on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at downtown’s Balboa Theater with a screening of the controversial and much-lauded satiric sendup Jojo Rabbit and the festival closed on Sunday, Oct. 20, with Marriage Story, an emotional domestic drama. In a bit of a plot twist, both films star Scarlett Johansson, but the similarities end there.

These Southern California premieres bracketed a lineup that included a wide range of 107 full-length films, with five in the narrative spotlight competition, 20 in the narrative contest, nine in the documentary competition, and almost 70 short films, combining major regional premieres with a focus on social and environmental issues, Variety reported. The festival is produced by the nonprofit San Diego Film Foundation.

As always, the festival offered an array of social gatherings, including its “Night of the Stars Tribute”, which this year honored actor Fishburne, Harris, and others. The festival returned to the Pendry San Diego hotel and ArcLight La Jolla theater, and the 2019 box office was at the Gaslamp Quarter in the stunning multi-level Theatre Box, in downtown San Diego, which opened in June.

At the “Night of the Stars Tribute,” Fishburne received the Gregory Peck Award for Cinematic Excellence, Pitbull received the Music Icon Award, Lindsay Wagner received the Humanitarian Award, Harris received the Cinema Vanguard Award, Jillian Bell received the Fairbanks Award, and Camila Morrone receiving the Rising Star Award.

Terri Stanley, Laurence Fishburne and Jared Harris

Harris, whose fans have launched a campaign to have him be the next James Bond, was a dynamic presence on Friday night charming both on the red carpet and in the VIP party. Another notable attendee was Bell, star of the wonderful film Brittany Runs a Marathon, who clearly is making a name for herself.

Yes, Laurence and Jared were in the same room and we even sneaked a photograph of them with styleboston/LeftCoast.LA creator Terri Stanley. “It was such a pleasure to meet both Laurence and Jared, but I have to admit I am smitten with the latter,” Stanley said. “Loved him in Mad Men, The Crown and most recently, Chernobyl. I told him the story of my connection to Chernobyl–the explosion happened on the day of my wedding, April 26, 1986. Our honeymoon was in Italy and Greece and the skies over Italy were very grey! When Laurence made his way over to Jared to say hello it was very sweet the way he spoke to him, genuinely thrilled to see him.”

Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris in Chernobyl. PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO

“I’m still overwhelmed that I would be given something called the ‘Gregory Peck’ award. He was singular,” Fishburne told local FOX station. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Fishburne received the award from Peck’s daughter, Cecelia, who was sitting with San Diegan Geri Warnke, a close friend and former board president of the La Jolla Playhouse, which Peck co-founded.

Among the VIP crowd were representatives from the major sponsors including the Pendry, a new Montage brand, financial powerhouse Morgan Stanley, and luxe automaker Maserati.

The 2019 edition of the festival had a global reach and a social-justice conscience. The festival received more than 3,000 submissions from 68 countries, including feature films, shorts and documentaries. Panel topics ranged from technology and streaming services and what lies ahead for digital platforms while others included “Unstoppable Women” and “Social Impact.” SDIFF screened films from Brazil, Congo, France, Indonesia, Japan, Romania, and South Korea.

Most of the film showings were followed by Q&As with their casts and crews, something that sets the festival apart with attendees having access to many filmmakers.

On Oct. 19, the festival presented “Filmmaker Awards Show & Party” at the Pendry. The competitive categories included narrative (fictional) and documentary. After receiving nearly 70 short films, the competition was divided into categories: “Twisted Humor,” “San Diego Scene,” and “Global Consciousness.”

The winners of the SDIFF competitions were: 100 Days to Live, best world premiere; Angelique’s Isle, Kumeyaay award; Babysplitters, best comedy; Breaking Their Silence, best documentary; The Steed, best feature film; Inside Game, best ensemble cast; Safe Spaces, artistic director’s award; Love In Kilnerry, best original screenplay; Philophobia, best global cinema; Portraitist, best international short film; Riptide, best animation, Safe Inside, best thriller feature; Long Time Listener, First Time Caller, best short film; Sonora, best student film, and, Flourish, best local film.

In addition to the screenings at the Pendry and Theatre Box, ArcLight La Jolla hosted the SDIFF’s popular “Culinary Cinema” on Oct. 20, which paired the screenings with delicacies provided by top local chefs.

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SAN DIEGO — It’s a good thing that the Oscar ceremony is on a Sunday night as we all seem to need a little bit more time to get ready for a party that celebrates the best in film and the best (and worst, gulp) in fashion.

We just wish that we got another day after the festivities to rest up. This year looked like it might be a quiet evening (no hosts, no controversy) but that quickly proved to be wrong, thankfully.

So, the anticipation and guess work on who would win which award was palpable from LA to Boston for the 91st Academy Awards. The San Diego Film Foundation did not disappoint on the party spectrum as it threw its best and biggest annual signature fundraiser that night, held at the Scripps family estate in Rancho Santa Fe. The SDFF used the event as a fundraiser for its highly successful “Impact On Film Tour,” which brings socially impactful films to thousands of high schoolers in the San Diego area in an effort to educate and create a call to action for the youth of the city.

The splashy event was done in true Hollywood style with a Maserati Levante and a Maserati Quattroporte lining the driveway and a Gran Torismo and Ghilbli at the red carpet. Gorgeous women and men turned out in gowns and tuxedos and everyone had a favorite going into the evening, but as we all know Oscar always surprises.

Meanwhile, up the road a bit, things at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Highland in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles got rolling early with a slate of dynamic interviewers handling the “heavy lifting” for ABC along the red carpet: Medford, MA, native Maria Menounos in a stunning Celia Kritharioti yellow and white gown with Chopard jewelry; Tony Award-winner Billy Porter in a custom (is there any other kind on Oscar night?) tuxedo-gown by Project Runway winner Christian Siriano; Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth also wearing a Celia Kritharioti gown; and supermodel Ashley Graham wearing Zac Posen and dripping in $1 million worth of jewels on loan from Martin Katz.

The only thing we think could live up to the Porter moment was Lady Gaga‘s breathtaking — and nearly blinding — diamond pendant. If you thought it looked like something familiar, indeed it is: that rock is The Tiffany Diamond, worth an ice-cold $30 million. (It had a previous brush with Hollywood when it was used for the promotional photo shoot for Audrey Hepburn’s turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) Careful viewers of styleboston.tv and LeftCoast.LA will remember that Kenny Loggins predicted Gaga’s Oscar success while walking the carpet for the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival. View his prediction below; he was spot on!

Gaga, of course, won the Oscar for best original song for “Shallow,” which she co-wrote with Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, and longtime Boston music maker Anthony Rossomando, best known for the bands The Damn Personals and Dirty Pretty Things.

When the first 8.5-pound golden statue was handed out to Regina King as “best supporting actress” for her star turn in If Beale Street Could Talk, it was Boston native Chris Evans who chivalrously helped King navigate the steps up to accept her award. Yahoo caught the image, you can view it here.

Another high point for those of us following the theater and fashion scenes in the Northeast as well as those around the world who are fans of her work, was when Ruth E. Carter got an Oscar for costume design for her work on Black Panther. Carter, who on stage gave a shout-out to her 97-year-old mother back in Massachusetts, has been toiling away in productions large and small for decades. She is a Springfield, MA, native, who apprenticed at the former StageWest in Massachusetts. MassLive had a great story on Carter, which you can read here.

And if you can stand us having one more fan moment from the Oscar night, it was when Peter Farrelly, a Rhode Island native whose parents live on the South Shore of Massachusetts, won the Oscar as part of the team who wrote the screenplay and the prize of the night, “best picture,” for Green Book. “I want to thank the whole state of Rhode Island,” Farrelly said during one of his acceptance speeches.

FUN FACT: If you thought it seemed like just about every movie that was nominated won something, you were onto something. At least with the “best picture” nominees. Since the number of potential nominees in the best picture category was expanded from five to 10 in 2010, this was the second time that every nominee got at least one award. Second fun fact: Five times in the last six years the “best director” trophy has gone to a Mexican director.

“A Star Is Born” Producer Billy Gerber with Tony Finn /Trenton Badillo Photography

SAN DIEGO — The owners of TCL Chinese Theatre, known to most as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, are behind San Diego’s newest hot spot, The Theatre Box, a luxury theater, dining and entertainment complex. 

And, the new venue was kicked off in grand style, with a private screening of “A Star Is Born,” which recently was nominated for eight Oscars. Noted movie producer Billy Gerber made the short trip form LA to welcome the guests and lead a question and answer session before the film’s screening. 

The night was held in partnership with the San Diego International Film Festival, which launches its 2019 season this month with the “Film Insider Series” and its Annual Awards Viewing Party (watch the Academy Awards in style!) star power fundraiser on Feb. 24th.

Theatre Box was the perfect venue for about 400 attendees who played on the red carpet and sipped cocktails from the large bar upstairs. “For the theater itself, Theatre Box plans to host world-class Hollywood film premieres and hand- and footprint ceremonies in the long-standing tradition of Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre,” said a representative. “We will surprise you by bringing Hollywood to San Diego.”
  

Pitbull and Nick Canon celebrate at Theatre Box

Pitbull and Nick Cannon celebrate at Theatre Box

Sugar Factory American Brasserie, the high-profile eatery is one of the stars of the show, with plenty of  celebrity endorsements behind it. Britney Spears, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Nicole Kidman and many others have been seen licking those lollipops, but there is so much more on the table here. The Sugar Factory offers a menu created by world-class chefs that promises to satisfy any palate, offering items from yummy pancakes to mouth-watering burgers, pizza and salads. 

Nick Cannon is the face behind the new rooftop sports bar and arcade opening up this summer called Wild ‘N Out, and according to those in the know he and other celebs will be appearing from time to time to guest DJ. A 14,000-square-foot hip-hop-themed Wild ‘N Out will feature a complete arcade with interactive games and memorabilia from the hit MTV show and a sports bar that claims to have the largest televisions in the city. TCL has also teamed up with Pitbull “Mr. Worldwide” to collaborate on ILov305 Rooftop Bar & Garden–a 6,000-square-foot Latin-inspired, rooftop Tiki bar and nightclub set to open in 2019.  Known as the place “Where What Happens, Never Happened,” ILov305 fare will consist of a seafood-themed menu to offer in its numerous VIP rooms, several bars and a private lounge, all complete with Pitbull’s ball of fire persona.

So much more than a movie theater, the Theatre Box promises a multi-faceted experience that certainly feels like a giant step forward in the entertainment business. San Diegans should support any venue that shines a spotlight on this beautiful city that is only a stones throw away from Hollywood.

The Theatre Box is in discussions with the San Diego International Film Foundation to partner on several events over the course of the year and film fest CEO Tonya Mantooth is excited about the opportunities to engage with this spectacular venue. 

“We felt really good about partnering with Theatre Box on “A Star is Born” screening, and having the film’s producer Billy Gerber there was fantastic,” says Mantooth. “I’m pleased to announce that we have a number of exciting events planned this year and leading up to the San Diego International Film Festival.
 
“An important focus for both Theatre Box and the SDIFF will be to continue to collaborate on events that will bring more celebrities down from LA, says Mantooth. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
 
The Planetary Chandelier Lights Theatre Box Lobby

The Planetary Chandelier Lights Theatre Box Lobby

By Joane Nelson

LA JOLLA, Calif.—Those who were lucky enough to be at the ArcLight Cinema for the U.S. premiere of “I’m Not Here,” on April 25 will not soon forget the special night. If, alas, you were not at the San Diego International Film Festival VIP pre-screening on Wednesday night, then you missed out on a thought-provoking, exclusive screening with a theater packed with people excited to see J.K. Simmons do what he does best.

The film “I’m Not Here” is directed by Michelle Schumacher, whose star is her husband, Academy Award-winner Simmons. It was nothing short of amazing. In addition to Simmons, the features Mandy Moore and Sebastian Stan, who can be seen in “Avengers: Infinity Wars” and “I, Tonya.”

There’s really no way to describe this feature without any spoiler alerts but we have to try: Simmons plays a man at the end of his rope who’s dealt with problems that a lot of people can relate to. The film’s teasing logline is “A man struggles with the tragic memories of his past to make sense of his present, but soon realizes that time isn’t the enemy he thinks it is.”

In addition to the pre-screening, SDIFF also announced it had a new sponsor, the blue chip financial investment company, Morgan Stanley, which was represented by several staff including systems and policy expert VR Raman. Also in attendance were members of styleboston.tv and LeftCoast.LA.

Tonya Mantooth, CEO of SDIFF, led a lively post-screening Q & A panel with Simmons, Schumacher, and others who held nothing back as the night was full of thoughtful conversation, drinks, and laughs.

(Screening location: ArcLight La Jolla, 4425 La Jolla Village Drive, CA 92122.)

 

SDIFF: Michelle Schumacher in Director’s Chair from styleboston on Vimeo.

Speaking of movie director Michelle Schumacher, J.K. Simmons talked about the important qualities she brought to the production, including her sense of purpose, her detailed preparations and an ability to adapt to different situations. Michelle on her part told the SDIFF audience that the production was very dear to her heart. She thanked everyone who supported the project and described the movie as a low budget production which was made possible through the collaboration of friends and family.

 

SDIFF: Q & A with the Audience from styleboston on Vimeo.

Answering questions from the audience during the prescreening of the movie, Simmons talked about how he decided to shed more than 20 pounds to play the role of an emaciated 60-year-old alcoholic. According to him, he had a choice between getting emaciated or bloated for the movie role but he chose the former.

He and Michelle also talked about similarities/differences between the movie characters and real life.

 

SDIFF: J.K. Simmons ‘talks” about not using dialogue from styleboston on Vimeo.

In “I’m Not Here” J.K. Simmons played a remarkable character that did not speak a single word throughout the movie. He told the audience during the SDIFF prescreening that he had to completely immerse himself in the screenplay to prepare for the movie role. He said he was able to make a success out of it by relying on the guidance of the movie director