Silicon Beach Film Festival entries find authentic humor in a digital world

By Christina Campodonico

Maine transplant Jennifer Mason (Krystal Beyer) has a difficult time adjusting to tech startup antics and the unusual cultural landscape
of Venice in “Jenn-Trification”

The phrase “Silicon Beach” conjures a variety of notions: boundless opportunity, disruptive change and an imperative for creativity among them.

This year’s Silicon Beach Film Festival — a cornucopia of shorts, pilots and feature films screening April 22 through 28 at the Cinemark 18 and XD theater at HHLA (formerly The Promenade at Howard Hughes) in Westchester — captures a bit of that zeitgeist while also finding some of the humor that tends to get lost in such heady ideas.

Starting with the opening night party on April 21 at Runway at Playa Vista, festival goers can download the Starlenz app to join a virtual scavenger hunt and take virtual selfies with actor J.K. Simmons or 1940s child star Margaret O’Brian. (Simmons’ new comedy “All Nighter” screens at the festival on April 27, as does a documentary short about O’Brian.)

But it isn’t all about special effects. Other filmmakers are screening projects that embrace entrepreneurialism to deal with life’s hard knocks in funny ways.

At 10 p.m. Sunday (April 23), Westside writer and director Robyn Paris, best known for her role in the 2003 cult classic “The Room,” will be showing episodes from her web comedy series “The Room Actors: Where are They Now? ”

Known and beloved for being a notoriously awful film, “The Room” (a.k.a. “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”) could have scarred Paris’ acting career for life, but she decided to take back control of her IMDB legacy and raised $31,000 on Kickstarter to make a fictionalized mockumentary about the lives of “The Room’s” cast post-2003.

“It’s a good way to poke fun at ourselves and enjoy the spirit of levity and festivity that surrounds ‘The Room,’” says Paris.

“And get a little more agency and a little more redemption in the process,” she adds, recalling how she used to spend “late nights crying into my goblet of wine, then finally realized I should turn lemons into lemonade.”

For writer-director Ray Ramos, making the sitcom TV pilot “Jenn-Trification” (also screening on Sunday) was a way of turning over a new leaf.

The Venice native was out of a job and distressed by the socioeconomic impact of tech companies on his beloved community. So he raised $9,000 on Kickstarter and decided to write a parody about the changes he was noticing in Venice — the rising rents, influx of well-heeled tech workers, displacement of longtime locals, shallow chicness of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and a cresting wave of acute homelessness alongside it all — through the eyes of someone who felt as out of place in Venice as he did.

“I was in a funk and I just needed something to kind of make me laugh,” says Ramos. “I figured the best way to say something was writing a pilot. I’ve never seen a TV pilot from Venice that was written by someone from Venice.”

So he conjured up a “vision of this really pale girl coming to the sunshine.”

That figure became Jennifer Mason, or the “Jenn” in “Jenn-Trification”— a wide-eyed young woman, played by actress Krystal Beyer, who moves from Maine to Venice to work for a snazzy but inscrutable tech company called “Fuggle.” Comedy ensues as she tries to navigate the startup’s frat bro antics and Venice’s quirky vibe.

“It’s both worlds — the worlds of the old Venice and the new Venice that’s she thrust into it,” says Ramos of his heroine.

At the Silicon Beach Film Festival, established creative values and new ideas may also find a meeting of the minds.

Screenings happen at HHLA’s Cinemark 18 and XD Movie Theatre, 6801 Center Drive, Westchester. Visit siliconbeachff.com for tickets and full schedule.

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