The Santa Clarita International Film Festival kickstarted its three-day celebration at the Laemmle Theater in Newhall on Thursday night as film enthusiasts and industry professionals watched Mexican-produced films paying homage to Latin American culture.
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 the “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. 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 movie theater locations. It has also expanded to highlight artists of other disciplines and attendees will have 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 is 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.
Opening night featured a short film titled “Meet los Parents,” directed by host and emcee Joey Medina, a veteran in the entertainment industry, and “Heroes,” directed by Ricardo Arnaiz, a Mexican pioneer in animation known for “La Leyenda de la Nahuala,” a popular film series for children that focuses on retelling the stories of famous Mexican folklore.
“I’ve hosted many things before as a comedian, but to host it as a comedian who’s a filmmaker means a lot to me. That means they take me serious,” said Medina.
Medina added that when SCIFF made its debut he was present to witness it. At the time he only had one of his films in the festival lineup and this year he will be having three.
“For her (deSouza’s) first time doing a festival I thought was incredible. It was wonderful and it’s basically a one-woman show and that’s really hard,” Medina said. “I appreciate people who work hard, especially in an art form that I love so much … and it’s just an honor to be a part of it.”
“I want people to enjoy the films that are here because every filmmaker … They worked hard. They put their own money, their own time just to make something to entertain people.”
Santa Clarita Councilman Bill Miranda was present among the many attendees and shared a few words with the audience before the film began. He shared Santa Clarita Valley moviemaking history and discussed the SCV’s popularity during the 1950s and ’60s for western films after famous movie actor William S. Hart made Newhall his home. He also discussed what the future holds for the industry in the SCV.
“We’re also a mecca for filming today. We have approximately 50 soundstages in our community. We’ve just approved 19 more so we’re going to be up around 70 soundstages in the not-too-distant future,” said Miranda. “The latest project that we have promises to have about 3,000 film industry workers here in Santa Clarita. We’re very excited to get that started early next year.”
Dozens of people walked into the movie theater with their popcorn and snacks ready to dive into new worlds with fresh storylines and plots amplifying unique voices in film.
The festival will continue to take place through this weekend. People can watch featured films specializing in categories that include feature narrative, foreign short, student feature and music videos. There will be panel discussions with industry professionals and table readings. Attendees will also have the chance to witness a live art show in Old Town Newhall and music performances will take place at the the American Legion Post 507.
For more information about the Santa Clarita International Film Festival and to purchase tickets, visit sciff.org.