SCIFF: A growing mecca for independent film lovers 

A panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled "Making Our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape" during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal
A panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled "Making Our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape" during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The Santa Clarita International Film Festival’s third annual celebration allowed attendees to watch unique films and learn more about the possibilities in the film industry. Filmmakers were recognized with awards for their unique storylines on the big screen during the closing of the festival.  

SCIFF was founded in 2021 by Lisa deSouza and other independent artists after they noticed the lack of film-related events in the Santa Clarita Valley, also known as “Hollywood North.” The nickname was given to Santa Clarita after it became a mecca for moviemaking locations, said deSouza.   

“I was very surprised by that,” deSouza said on opening night. After researching the possibilities of having a film festival, deSouza used her tech background and purchased the domains and initially thought of creating something on a smaller scale.   

“I’ll do something small. It’ll be something just for filmmakers,” said deSouza. “And what was interesting to me was the hunger for it.”   

In its third installation, this year SCIFF had a lineup of over 100 films scheduled to show at three different locations in Old Town Newhall. It also expanded to highlight artists of other disciplines and attendees had the chance to experience comedy shows and skits, a live art show, and music performances by local and out-of-state musicians.   

DeSouza said that the festival has been fully independent and aims to allow young and new filmmakers to have their works debut on a big screen.   

“I see it as potentially being the next South by Southwest right in our backyard,” said deSouza. 

The festival featured screenings of films from categories that include feature narratives, foreign short, student features and music videos. 

Throughout the weekend guests interested in the experience could attend panel discussions with film industry professionals and other mediums that were held at The Main.  

SCIFF introduced its series “Lunch with a Legend” on Saturday afternoon with Michael Levine, a public relations expert and author notable for working with Joan Rivers, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and other A-list celebrities throughout his career.  

Michael Levine, called one of "Americas premier branding experts" speaks during a session entitled "Lunch with Michael" during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923.  Dan Watson/The Signal
Michael Levine, called one of “Americas premier branding experts” speaks during a session entitled “Lunch with Michael” during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal

Moderated by deSouza, the intimate, laid-back setting allowed guests and guest speakers to create a welcoming environment where industry professionals shared the experiences and challenges they faced while working toward creating a successful career. 

Levine discussed his life struggles with the audience, such as growing up with dyslexia, and opened up about how he overcame the learning disability and his rise to success in the public relations world. He shared advice and wisdom with the audience so they could apply his outlook to their personal lives and become successful in what they desired.  

“Education is primarily done in life. It’s done right here, right now, together, because I hope that whatever we’re discussing, you’re translating it into how it affects you and what it means to your life and what mistakes and what wisdom you displayed and so forth and so on,” Levine told the audience.  

With only a high school diploma and no plans to pursue a higher education, Levine couldn’t keep up with his colleagues who had years of experience in public relations when he was given the opportunity to work at an agency with no experience. 

“So I made the decision to go into my office on Saturday at 10:30 in the morning and stay ’til 2:30 in the afternoon,” Levine said. No one else in the company worked on weekends and eventually this became a habit that was essential to Levine’s success.  

His persistence was key.  

Lunch with a legend was deSouza’s highlight of the festival and the panel discussions were well received by the attendees.  

“It was super intimate and that’s what I was hearing across the board from a lot of people … they could ask them questions and talk to them so that was a real sense of community,” said deSouza.  

There were six panel discussions scheduled throughout the weekend. In the panel discussion titled “Making Our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape,” Ana M. Amortegui, Pam Bouvier, Nora Zuckerman and Veronica Bouza were the guest panelists and spoke about their experiences working in a male-dominated industry and how they have pushed through challenges.   

A panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled "Making Our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape" during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923.  Dan Watson/The Signal
A panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled “Making Our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape” during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal

The hour-and-a-half panel discussion shared the perspectives of a writer, a casting director, and two directors of photography.  

“This is an empowerment panel,” said moderator Kelly Turner. “We have these wonderful women who represent many unconventional positions that you’ve probably never heard of behind the scenes.” 

One by one they all discussed their backgrounds, what it’s taken to be where they are now and what fuels their passion as creative individuals.  

Although they are honored to represent a small percentage of women in the film industry, director of photography Amortegui said she doesn’t want her gender to play a role in how people in the industry view her. She wants to be seen as equal to the men around her. She doesn’t want her gender to be a key factor as to why she is perceived differently. She just wants her work to speak for itself, she said.  

Clapping and cheering were then followed by both men and women who were present to witness the conversations among the five women during the panel discussion. The segment served as an empowering conversation that anyone could learn from due to its universal message.  

“Our values, which is connection, community and conversation … a big part of SCIFF is being able to walk away with great ideas or share great ideas, great conversation, it’s about the connection between your peers,” deSouza said as to why the panel discussions are incorporated into the festival.  

There were over 100 films submitted by filmmakers to be watched on the big screen and judged. Filmmakers are given a trophy and recognition once they won in their respective category.  

Director of Photography, Ana M. Amortegui joins a panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled "Making our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape" during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923.  Dan Watson/The Signal
Director of Photography, Ana M. Amortegui joins a panel of industry professional women speak in a session entitled “Making our Mark! How Women are Thriving in a Male Dominated Landscape” during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal

The winners of each category are listed below:  

• Best Narrative Short – “Pickled Herring” – Directed by Milana Vayntrub. 

• Best Narrative Feature – “I’ll Be There” – Directed by Andrew Shea. 

• Best Foreign Short – “Ter Chono, A Mongolian Story (from Romania)” – Directed by George Dogaru. 

• Best Foreign Feature – “OnlyHuman” (from United Arab Emirates) – Directed by Yana Klimova-Yusupova. 

• Best Faith Feature – “Miracle at Manchester” – Directed by Richard Newman. 

• Best Faith Short – “New Life: Pilot” – Directed by Cleve Brown. 

• Best Documentary Short – “Baseball Harmony” – Directed by Amy Hutchinson. 

• Best Documentary Feature – “Sloane: A Jazz Singer” – Directed by Michael Lippert. 

• Best Animated Short – “The Ghost Under My Bed” – Directed by Sara Caldwell. 

• Best Micro Short – “The 7th Night: MaoMao Revisits” – Directed by ahLoong. 

• Best Music Documentary Feature – “Steve Roach: Life in the Soundcurrent” – Directed by Kurt Lancaster. 

• Best Actor – Dimiter Marinov in the film, “Pickled Herring.” 

• Best Actress – Jasmine Bachelor in the film, “I’ll Be There.” 

  • Best Virtual Feature – Broken Worlds: The Island – Directed by Robyn Flanery

• Best Virtual Short – “The Mall Man,” directed by Dustin Morrow. 

• Best Virtual Micro-Short – “Dear Humans,” directed by Joo Peter. 

The Santa Clarita International Film Festival also highlighted other disciplines such as comedy shows and skits, local artists and live music performances.

Moderator Sydney Alston, right, leads a panel discussion entitled "Modern Day Musicians - How to Get Discovered"  during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923.  Dan Watson/The Signal
Moderator Sydney Alston, right, leads a panel discussion entitled “Modern Day Musicians – How to Get Discovered” during the Santa Clarita International Film Festival event held at The Main in Newhall on Saturday, 120923. Dan Watson/The Signal

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