Catalina Film Festival founder Ron Truppa realizes that it’s a crowded time to be introducing a new sprocket opera into the world, but he believes the three-year-old Catalina event, which ran Sept. 18-22 on the resort island, has potential that other fests don’t.
Located just a one-hour ferry ride from Los Angeles, Catalina benefits from a long tradition of attracting celebs away from the demands of city life — an asset Truppa and his team used to draw Kate Bosworth out for a screening of “Big Sur” and director Nick Cassavetes to “Yellow,” which world premiered more than a year earlier in Toronto. The island also served as one of Hollywood’s first locations, appearing in everything from swashbucklers to “Jaws.” Truppa projected a DVD of Spielberg’s shark-attack classic on the Avalon beach for a small crowd of vacationers Saturday night.
With an emphasis on indies and short films, the festival screens movies in several venues around town, including the local high-school auditorium and the Avalon Community Church, where the audience sits in pews and faces a pull-down screen above the altar. The flagship venue is the Casino’s ground-floor Avalon Theater, a stunning Art Deco landmark with working organ that still hosts the occasional silent-film fund-raiser.
The experience of watching movies in the Casino practically justifies the festival’s existence. On Friday night, attendees walk the red carpet in tuxedos and evening gowns, while the weekend crowd appears to have stumbled in off the beach (many of them have). No one really enforces the ticketing policy. For the time being, everybody is welcome, considering the huge 1,154-seat room draws attention to the fact that audiences are still small. Only 43 bodies peppered the auditorium for “Yellow,” for example.
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But Truppa, who modeled Catalina after what friends had done at the Slamdance and the Feel Good Film Festival, sees the event’s potential, imagining the festival as a future Telluride, where pass-holders can mingle with celebs in a relaxed resort environment. Catalina even includes a modest film market, with industry panels and networking opportunities. In an effort to draw the stars, this year’s event honored Sharon Stone, Jon Favreau, Patricia Arquette, Bailee Madison and young filmmaker Rina Goldberg (“The Magic Bracelet”).
Arquette stuck around to present the Majestic Award, recognizing the late Tony Scott, to the helmer’s widow, Donna Scott, following a 20th-anniversary screening of “True Romance” (which was shown on Blu-ray). Accepting the crystal trophy, Donna Scott recalled how, after appearing as an actress in the director’s “Days of Thunder” at age 24, “He threatened not to go out with me in Los Angeles unless I jumped out of an airplane. Tony wanted to see if I was worthy.”
Her husband was a daredevil, she said, explaining how he earned one of his most famous credits: “He got the movie ‘Top Gun’ by going down the Grand Canyon on a river raft with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. He said, ‘If I swim these rapids at Lava Falls and live, will you give me the movie?’ So Tony put on two life jackets and a helmet and jumped in.”
According to Donna, Tony had pursued the same thrill in his private life that he brought to the screen in all his films, making for an unpredictable yet exciting relationship. “It was consistently the wildest ride,” said Donna, noting how her husband had declined attention during life, always saying, “I don’t do it for the credit. I do it for the love and passion.” Had the award been offered when Scott was alive, he surely would have responded, “No, no, I think I’m gonna go rock climbing.”