The Marina del Rey Film Festival takes a stand for indie cinema

By Menaka Gentle

he 90 seat Cine- transformer truck trailer heads to the Jamaica Bay Inn on Sunday

he 90 seat Cine-
transformer truck trailer heads to the Jamaica Bay Inn on Sunday

Chasing global box office returns, Hollywood studios have become obsessed with big-budget blockbusters that are often short on story and long on digital effects.

The 5th annual Marina del Rey Film Festival is focused on the films that fall through the cracks.

Despite the apparent hegemony of movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Suicide Squad,” new technology has opened the door to a proliferation of independent films.

Festival organizers hope to connect indie filmmakers with each other and to new audiences this weekend through a series of industry workshops and unconventional public screenings of feature documentaries and dramatic shorts.

The festival begins on Friday with screenings of selected shorts at the Pacific Avenue headquarters of production company Beach Dancer Films, helmed
by filmmaker Sandie West.

On Saturday, shorts and docs screen in six roughly 90-minute blocks at the Cinemark 18 & XD in The Promenade at Howard Hughes, while workshops happen simultaneously across the street at Pepperdine University’s West L.A. campus.

On Sunday, the festival takes independent cinema back to the people with a series of screenings in the Cinetransformer — a massive truck trailer that folds out into a 90-seat indoor movie theater — behind the Jamaica Bay Inn near Mother’s Beach.

Why the theater on wheels? As it turns out, festival organizers faced a problem all too familiar for the independent filmmakers they celebrate.

“With ‘Suicide Squad,’ venues are really difficult to get,” said festival cofounder Peter Greene.

Greene and festival cofounder Jon Gursha are principals with Film Marketing Services Inc., Marina del Rey-based company that specializes in international and domestic film distribution and is the parent company of the festival.

The festival’s four panels discuss legal issues, casting strategies, screenwriting and crowdfunding. While primarily geared toward people in the business, organizers say even those who just aspire to someday make a film can benefit from them and leave feeling empowered to create.

“Today, people are all about the inner workings of film and television, and this is an opportunity to really learn from the experts,” Greene said.

More than 50 films are screening for the festival, each with a unique story to tell.

One of West’s favorites is “Cora,” a 22-minute dramatic short directed and produced at Santa Monica College. In the film, director Kevin Maxwell chronicles his own grandmother’s personal struggles with racism, abuse, addiction and simply making ends meet as a young black woman in 1960s Memphis.

Much of the film takes place at Ingo’s Tasty Diner (formerly Callahan’s Restaurant) in Santa Monica, which becomes a retro Tennessee diner during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. “Cora” screens in the 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. block of films on Saturday at Cinemark XD.

Greene and Gursha recommend “Marty Goes to Hollywood,” a BAFTA Scotland award-winning documentary making its North American premiere during the 3 to 4:30 p.m. block on Saturday.

In the film, Scottish actor Martin Docherty is too broke to attend the Hollywood premiere of “Cloud Atlas,” in which he scored his big break playing Tom Hanks’ brother. Then a friendly wager pushes him to scrape together the plane fare, and he arrives only to encounter myriad other problems that speak to issues the independent film community faces every day.

But that’s just a taste. There are comedies and action-thrillers, too.

“We’ve never offered an extensive program like this year,” said Greene. “There’s something for everybody.”

The 5th annual Marina del Rey Film Festival starts Friday night at Beach Dancer Films (3401 Pacific Ave.) and continues with screenings from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday at Cinemark XD in The Promenade at Howard Hughes (6081 Center Drive, Westchester), and panels from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in the West L.A. campus of Pepperdine University (6100 Center Drive, Westchester). Screenings in the Cinetransformer truck happen from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at Jamaica Bay Inn (4175 Admiralty Way).

Tickets are $10 for individual screenings or $50 for a weekend pass.

Visit for a complete list of screenings.