The Topanga Film Festival is Back

Windows on the World. Courtesy of filmmaker

Urs Baur has revived the Topanga Film Festival (TFF) to showcase a selection of short films and three award-winning features over three days, August 16, 17, and 18.

The festival begins with an opening reception at 6:30 on Friday, August 16, followed by a screening of Michael D. Olmos’ acclaimed feature film Windows on the World at 7:30 p.m. 

On Saturday, at 5:30 p.m., explore the life of legendary Santa Barbara surfboard shapers Renny Yater and George Greenough, and the world-famous Rincon wave that inspired their craft, in Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story, a film by Topangan Wyatt Daily.

The festival concludes on Sunday, August 17, with a screening of Director Corina Gamm’s climate change documentary, SILA: The Gatekeepers of the Arctic, at 12:30 p.m.

The event also features an international short film competition with screenings of Topanga entrepreneur Bruce Royer’s TV series, Canvasing The World, that details host Sean Didiker’s quest to explore the interplay between art and the human condition (1-2:30 p.m., August 17); the short music documentary, Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (3-4:30 p.m., August 17); International short films (7:30-10 p.m., August 17); a special showcase of the films of Charlie Chaplin (11 a.m.-12 p.m., August 18); and a showcase of dance film and music videos (3-7 p.m., August 18). The festival is bookended opening and closing parties. 

The Messenger Mountain News spoke with the three feature filmmakers prior to the festival.

WINDOWS ON THE WORLD

Windows on the World is a 2019 American drama film directed by Michael D. Olmos and starring Ryan Guzman and Edward James Olmos. 

The title is the name of the restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, that was destroyed in the September 11 attack. The film tells the story of a young man who travels from Mexico to New York in the weeks after the tragedy to try to learn the fate of his father, an undocumented worker employed as a busboy at the restaurant.

It’s a timely film that explores the immigrant experience in the shadow of the 9/11 disaster, the moment in modern history that catapulted the United States into its current xenophobic trajectory. 

Novelist Robert Mailer Anderson, co-writer and producer of the film, says, “It’s about family, and how we all experience trauma. It explores why people leave home to find work as unseen, under-appreciated, and dehumanized migrant laborers, and what happens to the families they leave behind.”

The ACLU’s Cecila Wang has described the film as “a cinematic homage to some of the reasons people choose to become Americans and to the difficulties and joys of their journeys.”(windowsontheworldfilm.com)

SPOONS

Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story, is an homage to the Rincon surf break, with a focus on a pair of remarkable Santa Barbara surfboard shapers—George Greenough and Reynolds “Renny” Yater—whose innovative designs revolutionized the sport.

The film’s director, Topanga resident Wyatt Daily, told the Messenger Mountain News that the inspiration for Wyatt’s film came when he was a college student in Santa Barbara, in the form of a box of archival photos. “My friend’s dad owned a surf shop in Santa Barbara. He asked us if we could digitize these old photos.”

The photos opened a window onto what Wyatt describes as the golden era of surfing. “A good amount of guys from that era are still around, but that might not be the case in five or ten years,” he said.

Rincon’s wave is famous for its consistent quality and long ride. It’s a versatile surf spot that attracts surfers from all over the world. Daily’s film looks at how the shape of that particular wave has influenced the evolution of the sport.

“Rincon required high performance boards,” Daily said. “Greenough was radical. He developed the modern fin, flexible like a tuna’s fin; experimented with new materials; and influenced the revolution that was shortboards. 

“Renny Yater started shaping in 1959. He made subtle advancements, refinements, and steady improvements. Each represents a fork in the road [of surfing’s development as a sport]. Rincon in the 1960s was a pivotal time for surfing.”

The film is a passion project. Initially, Wyatt and his friends self-funded the film, turning to Kickstarter to raise the last $47,000 needed to obtain rights for certain key songs and archival surf film footage. 

“It’s really important to share this story in a way that is authentic,” Wyatt explained. “We’re not doing this to sell shorts.” 

He describes the film project as part of the heritage, mentorship and work ethic practiced by surfboard makers like Yater, who is still shaping boards at the age of 87.

“We can talk about how many people influenced the sport who are not well known outside of Santa Barbara,” Daily said. “Why did so much come out of this small town? It’s because of the wave called Rincon.”

The film features film footage that includes outtakes from films by well known surf filmmakers and Super 8 home movies that capture what Daily calls the golden era. “Much of the archival footage has never been seen,” he said. 

Daily, a Topanga resident cut and edited the film at his home studio in the canyon. (spoonsfilm.com)

SILA AND THE GATEKEEPERS OF THE ARCTIC

Director Corina Gamma’s documentary, SILA and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic, is the final feature of the festival, showing on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

In 2011, Gamma had the opportunity to visit Swiss Camp, a climatology research station on the Arctic ice where she stayed with the researchers, documenting their work. It was the first of five trips she would take to the far north to explore the impact of climate change on the frontline of global warming.   

Gamma, who studied and teaches photography, shot the entire film herself, filming the researchers at work and interviewing members of the Inuit community. “I did it on my own,” she said. “That allowed me to stay as long as I needed and blend in easier. [As a result], she captured the austere beauty of the Arctic and its people in the film.

“Polar regions are the first to be impacted by climate change,” Gamma said. “Small changes in temperature, just one or two degrees, make a big difference. We are not so aware of it, but the people who live there are.”

Gamma named her film Sila for an Inuit word for the weather, the sky. 

She explained that the Inuit’s culture has evolved on the sea ice and is dependent on the seasons’ cycles for survival. Climate change is an immediate threat to them, not something that can be ignored for another generation.

“It’s crazy the changes that are happening,” she said. So much has changed since my film came out.” (gatekeepersofthearctic.com)

 

The festival takes place at Froggy’s Topanga this year, located at 1105 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga, CA 90290.

Tickets, times, and more information are available online at topangafilminstitute.org.

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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