The Santa Clarita Valley saw more than 1,700 “shooting days” this past year, according to Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda, with production companies using the area as a backdrop for movies, television shows, commercials and music videos. There’s so much production in the SCV that some people refer to it as “Hollywood North.”
Yet, when Sand Canyon resident and independent filmmaker Lisa deSouza looked in her backyard for a film festival that could potentially screen her work, none were to be found. That’s why, she said, she started her own festival last year.
On Thursday night, a red-carpet event at the Laemmle Theater in Old Town Newhall opened the second annual Santa Clarita International Film Festival, which is taking place throughout the weekend. deSouza, founder and executive director of the SCIFF, told The Signal just before the opening-night film that she’s particularly proud that the event has made such a commitment to social issues this year.
“For example, our opening movie is about the Dakota Pipeline,” she said in the lobby of the Laemmle, which was brimming with festival attendees and filmmakers. “We’ve got a hosted screening block with the NAACP, we’ve got a hosted screening block with our local SCV LGBTQ Center — the movie that’s showing in that is actually an Elton John-produced movie.”
deSouza added that another film to screen at the festival addresses the fentanyl crisis, and that the nonprofit group V.O.I.D. (Victims Of Illicit Drugs) will host the screening.
Comedian and festival emcee Kermet Apio from NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” began the evening with greetings and a taste of the stand-up comedy that festivalgoers might expect throughout the event.
“It’s so wonderful. (There are) voices from different walks of life, different styles, and a lot of people putting together some amazing movies you’ll be able to see the next four days,” Apio told a crowd in the theater waiting to see the opening-night film. “And I hope you’re excited about it. Are you excited about it?” he asked, to which the audience erupted in applause.
Apio seemed particularly excited that the SCIFF would be including comedy with the film screenings.
“We comedians — we’re very, very touched by that,” he said, “and we’re so glad to be a part of it.”
The festival will also include musical performances and a gallery and visual arts show.
According to Sean McBride, the event’s music and comedy director who previously spoke with The Signal, the SCIFF will screen 175 films, with 30 comedians and 10 bands scheduled to perform in the old CrossFit Building Block building on Lyons Avenue near the Laemmle Theater. The festival, McBride said, also partnered with the Santa Clarita Artists Association to support area visual artists, and is curating a show as part of the larger festival.
Miranda took the stage after Apio’s remarks and offered a description of his own excitement for the festival.
“We’ve had thousands of movies filmed here just in the last 20 years,” he told those in attendance. “This is incredible. What the film industry does for Santa Clarita is it gives us economic vitality. So, last year, we had about $34 million in economic vitality that came from the filming industry. This year, $10 million more. (That’s) $44 million in economic vitality.”
Miranda added that the city is home to more than 6,000 people who work in the industry.
“We’re proud of that,” he continued. He concluded by saying that the SCIFF is not just promoting film, TV and music videos, but ultimately promoting Santa Clarita.
Area resident and actress Kelly Packard Privett, known for her roles on the TV shows “Baywatch” and “California Dreams,” spoke next during a Q&A with Apio. She talked about growing up in Canyon Country, attending Canyon High School and feeling a little conflicted over the fact that her kids go to Hart High School. She shared stories about her career, and about settling down to have a family. She was thrilled to have a film festival in town.
“I’m glad to know that this (festival) is going on,” she said, “and I’m really proud of the filmmakers that are out there, and hopefully, one day, I’ll get back into the business.”
A look at the SCIFF website indicates a very full schedule of films, comedy, music and events. According to deSouza, it should be a great time. She added that she’s particularly pleased to be offering the first annual SCIFF Activism Award, which goes along with the festival’s commitment to social issues she spoke about earlier.
The closing ceremonies on Sunday will include the presentation of that award to actor Ed Begley Jr. and actress, creator and producer Rachelle Carson-Begley. In addition to being known for their work in films and TV, both Begley Jr. and Carson-Begly are, according to the SCIFF website, very active in their commitment to the protection of the environment.
“While art is important,” the website reads, “we wanted to recognize those in our community who are driven by a bigger purpose.”
For more information about the festival, a schedule of events or to buy tickets, go to SCIFF.org.