International Film Festival to take over downtown Friday

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Actors, directors, producers and movie junkies will flock to town to participate in 10 days of movies, events and workshops for the 16th annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival on Friday.

The festival is bigger and better than ever, festival director Wendy Eidson said. She estimated the festival attendance has roughly doubled since she took over the directorial job in 2007.

“It’s really starting to feel like a real film festival,” she said.

About 8,000 people are expected to attend the 10-day festival, including actors such as Josh Brolin and Alan Arkin. Events range from movie showings, to question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, to wine tastings and musical events.

Movie showings are the main focus. Filmmakers such as Ash Adams, a writer, director, producer and actor, who, at the age of 18, acted at the Little Theatre in San Luis Obispo, will show their films. Adams’ film “Once Fallen,” starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, will be shown Saturday. It will be part of his third festival tour with one of his films.

“What distinguishes a good festival from a not-so-good festival is the quality of movies and how they treat the filmmakers,” Adams said. “It’s supposed to be about the filmmakers and putting together an arena so that they come together and talk about film without the politics and without the pressure to say things or do things (from Hollywood). I think San Luis Obispo is offering that sort of platform.”

Director and actor Aaron Metchik, whose film “10 Years Later” was shot entirely on the Central Coast with a mixture of Los Angeles and local cast and crew, will open the festival on Friday as a world premiere. Metchik lived on the Central Coast from age 6 to 18 and said it was great to come back to film and then get the opportunity to show his film.

“I have a strong connection to the area and the people there and so many people were involved, I’m happy to show what we have accomplished,” he said. “The Central Coast support allowed us to film there.”

Metchik said the San Luis Obispo area was perfect for his film because of the small towns and beautiful surroundings. He said the crew felt much more like a family because they were on location and their outside lives weren’t there to drag people away. The film was meant to take place in “small town anywhere-America.”

The beautiful and unparalleled surroundings are one thing meant to set San Luis Obispo apart from other film festivals. Lindsey Miller, director of marketing for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, said the festival is meant not only to highlight movies and the people who make them, but the San Luis Obispo area as well.

“I think the great thing about the event is the focus on unique venues in unique ways,” Miller said. “Events are held at ranches, wineries and theaters like the historic Fremont. It’s a great way of showcasing not only movies but the county as well.”

The influx of movie-goers to San Luis Obispo gives a significant boost to the local economy, Miller said. March is considered off-season in town, and hotels, restaurants and stores are happy to see the business.

“These are people traveling with money,” Miller said. “They’re people that are coming and participating in what SLO has to offer; they’re spending money in the town.”

The event is one of the biggest gatherings not only in the city of San Luis Obispo, but in the county as well. Tourism is the number one money-maker in the city, Miller said.

Miller also noted that the geographical location of San Luis Obispo is perfect for the festival. People can make a short weekend trip from Los Angeles or San Francisco without flying.

Film tickets and information about the festival are available online at www.slofilmfest.org.