The Other Venice Film Festival’s roster of 72 screenings includes ‘Freedumb,’ a new documentary profiling six local artists
By Michael Aushenker
It’s a word tattooed across muralist Jules Muck’s knuckles. It’s also the title of a new documentary by Laura Rudich and Sean VanLoozen that features Muck and five other creative Venetians, a film being screened publicly for the first time on Friday as part of the Other Venice Film Festival.
Now in its 11th year, the Other Venice Film Festival is less an alternative to Italy’s Venice International Film Festival than it is a nonprofit community event dedicated to screening full-length, short and animated films that somehow embody the creative spirit, energy and diversity of Venice, California.
Launching with just 14 films, the festival’s offerings doubled each of the subsequent three years and has grown to include 72 screenings across three days at the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center.
In addition to “Freedumb,” the Friday night roster includes a screening of the indie flick “ERS,” starring Michelle Rodriguez and Rie Rasmussen. Both director Francesca de Sola and Rodriguez are expected to attend, said festival organizer Reuben De La Casas.
Another festival highlight, screening Saturday morning, is “A Man Called God,” a documentary on 1970s cult leader Sai Baba created by actor Christopher St. John (“Shaft”) and his actor son Christoph St. John (“Days of Our Lives”).
“Prison Through Tomorrow’s Eyes,” which explores the inequities of our prison system through the eyes of 24 college students who tour several California state prisons, screens Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday, the festival announces the recipients of its annual Abbot Awards for outstanding people and projects. Previous winners have included such industry luminaries as Werner Herzog, Roger Corman, Oliver Stone, Catherine Hardwicke, Stacey Peralta, Tony Alva, Orson Bean, Danny Trejo, Tony Bill and Zak Penn.
As usual, screenings and awards are punctuated by live music sets. Performers this year include multinational rock music outfit Musiciens Sans Frontieres, Kim Corliss’ and one-armed guitarist Paul Gunby’s Natural Hi-Fi and rock fusionists Ship of the Rising Sun.
New this year is a festival art tent, curated in the spirit of Burning Man.
“This tent thing excites me because it’s the first time we’re trying it,” said De La Casas, who insists that film submissions have not appeared online and relate somehow to the zeitgeist of Venice.
At 56 minutes, “Freedumb” is a cinematic portrait of “the Venice artists who come here from other areas and call Venice their home now,” De La Casas said.
“Freedumb” filmmakers Rudich and VanLoozen now live in Venice after moving from their native Michigan two years ago. But don’t ask either of them to put their finger on why they’re so attracted to the beachside community.
“That’s why we set out to make the project — to find answers to that. That kind of became the story [of the film],” Rudich said.
In addition to England-born Muck, “Freedumb” subjects include artist Divine Love (Shelley Gomez), Venice Symphony Orchestra Director Wesley Flowers, painter Jason Christman, glassblower Ernie Miranda and musician Tony Fernandez, who embodies Jim Morrison in the Doors tribute band Peace Frog.
Fernandez participated in a tribute to late keyboardist Ray Manzarek in last year’s festival, footage of which is included in “Freedumb.” The Venice Symphony Orchestra also performed at last year’s fest.
“Most of them were just standout artists that we saw,” Rudich said. “Jules was the first one. We saw her work all over town. She moved here right after I moved to Michigan.”
Christman started off making Magic Marker drawings but people kept requesting paintings in the style.
“He kept saying, ‘No, I don’t paint.’ Then eventually he started painting in that style,” Rudich said.
After a private February screening of an initial cut of “Freedumb” in February at the Venice Love Shack, the filmmakers re-edited their picture to expand the segment on Miranda because of an ambitious project the glassblower had completed.
Up next for Rudich is a short film memorializing legendary skateboarding pioneer and Z-Boy Jay Adams for an upcoming gallery show to be curated by Zephyr shop co-owner Jeff Ho, but for now all eyes are on “Freedumb.”
In the end, Rudich finally figured out what keeps her rooted in Venice.
“We just met so many great people who constantly inspire me,” she said. “That’s the draw of this place for me. Every day I can go out and see people creating.”
“Freedumb” screens at 8 p.m. Friday. For a complete listing of events — all taking place at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, 681 Venice Blvd. — visit othervenicefilmfestival.com. Tickets are $10 per screening.