Nestled in one of California’s favorite coastal getaways, the Carmel Intl. Film Festival has grown considerably since its 2008 inception. With an expected turnout of around 3,000-4,000 filmgoers, this year’s extravaganza, which takes place Oct. 19-23, will place focus on new, rising talent.

“I’m excited that we have some really great, quality independent films that are coming out by first-time directors,” says Thomas Burns, the festival’s founding president and CEO. Burns adds that the event is thrilled to able to give newcomers a platform because “there’s so much talent out there that nobody gets an opportunity to see.”

The festival — based at various locations in and around Carmel — will screen nearly 125 films including narrative, documentary, and shorts. Projects from rookie feature directors include Steve Goldbloom’s comedy “Remember Me,” starring Rita Moreno, and Lena Khan’s dramedy “The Tiger Hunter” with Danny Pudi and Jon Heder. Meanwhile, the family comedy “Dusty and Me” marks director Betsan Morris Evans’ return to features after a decade-long hiatus.

On the documentary front, “Flatball” follows the origins of ultimate Frisbee as narrated by Alec Baldwin; “Gleason” is about former professional football star Steve Gleason’s ALS diagnosis; and “Good Fortune” tells the story of self-made businessman John Paul DeJoria, who will be honored with the festival’s inaugural Carmel Creative Humanitarian Award prior to the documentary’s screening Oct. 21.
“The guy was down and out and living in cars,” Burns says of DeJoria, co-founder of Patron and Paul Mitchell. “Now he’s a billionaire. It’s a timely, great doc that blew me away.”

Other festival highlights include the Women in Film panel discussion at La Playa Hotel as well as the Legends Dinner for high-end patrons. Held at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, the sit-down dinner will honor Ed Asner, whose short film, “Super Sex,” debuts at the fest. Directed by Matthew Modine, the six-minute short also stars Modine’s daughter, Ruby, in addition to Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon.
The actors are scheduled to walk the red carpet in advance of its screening alongside director Amy Jo Johnson and the cast of “The Space Between,” the festival’s opening-night film.

Despite attracting plenty of the films’ actors, Burns insists the festival isn’t about its celebrity turnout.

When he founded the Carmel fest, he says, “I was told by our friends at Sundance, ‘Don’t worry about celebrities. Just make the film festival about filmmakers.’ We do. And we have since year one.”

As for how it has evolved, Burns says, “Our first couple years we were called the Carmel Art & Film Festival. Three years ago, we changed our name. In those early years, it became apparent that people were coming for film.

“Even so, as a nod to the festival’s roots, those who win awards will receive 18-inch bronze sculptures designed by local artist Gustavo Torres.

“There’s a different vibe with Carmel,” says Burns. “When you bring creative people into one small town, the energy changes. It’s a very relaxed, casual atmosphere that I think filmmakers thrive on.”