Films are a powerful way to tell stories and provoke great heights of emotion, but for independent filmmakers, it can be difficult to acquire funding and viewership compared to established filmmakers in Hollywood.
So, a small team of artists, entrepreneurs and small business owners who share a common goal of supporting independent filmmakers created the Santa Clarita International Film Festival.
“I wanted to set the tone of what this festival is about and part of that is a new platform for independent filmmakers, musicians, comedians, artists, etc.,” said Lisa deSouza, of Canyon Country, co-founder of SCIFF. “If you’re a producer, a distribution outlet looking for quality content, here is where you need to come. That’s the goal.”
SCIFF had its opening night on Thursday at the Laemmle theater in Newhall, showing a short film, “Two Heads are Better Than One,” and the feature film “Fireboys.” Each film was produced by independent filmmakers.
“Two Heads are Better Than One” chronicles the conversations of peace and tolerance between Benjamin Ferencz, the last living chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, and Yaacov Heller, a globally recognized artist and sculptor. These meetings led Heller to make the bust of the now 100-year-old Ferencz.
“We have to start with the young,” Heller said at the festival during a question-and-answer session. “Compassion and tolerance are what we need to be taught and learned by the young. All the Holocaust studies are only mandatory in 19 states in this country and they should be taught in all.”
The bust was accepted into the International Criminal Court in the Hague in 2020, according to Eric Kline, the director of the film.
“Fireboys” is the untold story of young men incarcerated in California who are offered a way out: by fighting wildfires. The film is a coming-of-age story told from the perspectives of young men as they summon the courage to fight fires and confront their pasts.
“Yeah, it is very unfair (the amount of money these young men make as firefighters while incarcerated). It also speaks to the contradictions that exist in this particular space of our prison system,” said Jake Hochendoner, co-director of “Fireboys,” during the Q&A. “And there’s prison labor exploitation across the country where people are doing work — in this case, doing life-threatening work and doing lifesaving work at the same time.”
There are some writers and directors who can’t be heard or seen, so SCIFF is the place and platform for them, deSouza said.
“Those are the stories that need to be told,” deSouza said, referring to “Two Heads are Better Than One” and “Fireboys.” “Those are the stories that need to (be heard). Unfortunately, in the mainstream, you don’t get that at all right now.”
SCIFF was created just for that purpose, according to deSouza.
Kevin Roy, a member of SCIFF, said they wanted to start the festival two years ago, but COVID-19 pushed it back.
“But it gave us more time, and we got the right people involved to help like our hosts and the city,” Roy said. “We turned a negative into a positive and got all these people on our side, which helped a lot with opening night.”
SCIFF runs through this weekend, ending on Sunday.
In total, SCIFF will show more than 100 films at the Regal Edwards Cinema in the Westfield Valencia Town Center. Organizers will host 30 bands and 27 comedic acts who will perform on the plaza, which will be free to the public.
There’s also a virtual program of more than 30 films anyone can enjoy.
“When we all came together, we said (that) we are in it,” deSouza said. “We’re going to see this through. Our goal is to be the next South by Southwest (an annual festival in Austin, Texas). In five years, that’s our goal.”
Members of SCIFF said the opening night was the inaugural for the festival. They believe the festival can benefit the SCV by bringing tourism and sponsorships.
But ultimately, SCIFF organizers are thankful for the community that supported them, and deSouza said they were grateful to Regal Edwards Cinema, the Laemmle in Newhall for the venue, and the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Foundation for funding the festival.
The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Charitable Foundation partner with colleges and universities around the country to provide scholarships, lectures and screenings for comedy students in theater, film and television.
“I can’t tell you how many small businesses stepped up and bought (a sponsorship),” deSouza said. “The embracing of the community, I think people get it.”
For ticket prices and information, visit sciff.org.