Santa Monica Film Festival packs 13 shorts and two local premieres into one big day

By Bliss Bowen

Environmental threats, human resilience, and the rise of a local skateboarding legend are among the themes and topics embraced by entries in the 14th annual Santa Monica Film Festival, happening Saturday at the AMC Broadway 4 in Santa Monica. The nonprofit festival celebrates short films and their makers from across the country and the globe, but some films with local hooks are likely to spark particular audience interest.

Crime comedies are robustly represented by, among others, Sean Fredricks’ “Cannonball,” which has scooped up a handful of awards and nominations at other festivals, and writer-director Julia Bergeron’s “Porch Light.”

“Cannonball,” which stars M.J. Brackin as an abused, “type-A” Brentwood wife and mom and Trevor Torseth as a tattooed, existentially minded hitman,
sets up noir archetypes then cleverly implodes them in under 20 minutes.

The nine-minute “Porch Light,” which snagged a Best Short Comedy award at the Burbank International Film Festival in September, is something of a family affair. Santa Monica native Bergeron recruited her brothers, Art and Kevin Botham, to work on the lighthearted caper, and named her production company, 26th Street Productions, after the street where they grew up.

Hometown heart also beats proudly in Coan “Buddy” Nichols and Rick Charnoski’s “The Tony Alva Story,” about the 62-year-old Z-Boys legend and hugely influential vertical skateboarding innovator. Josh Brolin, Shepard Fairey and Henry Rollins are among the famous figures exalting Alva’s mystique and recalling their youthful awe of him during the 54-minute film, receiving its Santa Monica premiere Saturday. Alva and fellow skateboarder Ray Flores are scheduled to appear at the 3:30 p.m. screening.

Also receiving its L.A. premiere: “The Animal People,” about six activists labeled domestic terrorists and sentenced to federal prison because their antivivisection protests dinged a company’s profits. Co-directed by Casey Suchan and Denis Henry Hennelly and executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix, the 90-minute documentary took a decade to make and through its complicated storyline considers threats posed to 21st-century democracy by the punishment of free speech. Its 7:30 p.m. screening will close the festival. (Note: Screenings for both “The Tony Alva Story” and “The Animal People” are being ticketed separately.)

Quiet and meaningful, “The Last Trap Family” compresses a rich story into 11 minutes as it follows the last family in Rhode Island to eke out a living off the coast of Newport using labor-intensive, sustainable traps. “It’s a passive fishery,” the family head calls it, and “pretty green”; they repair nets by hand, and take in very little to no bycatch. But their skiffs and equipment are old, and the scup they sell fetch about the same price they did in the 1960s. “Fishermom” Corey Forrest is passing along her family’s heritage and work ethic to her daughter and niece, but she admits the future of their lean family-run operation is “definitely uncertain.”

Other films being screened: “Balloon,” “Butterfly,” “Content Guidelines,” “The Fix,” “The Liquor Store Incident,” “Mama Bear,” “Outpatient,” “Ruthie,” “Shaped,” “Son of a Ditch,” “This is Fine” and “Underground.”

The 14th annual Santa Monica Film Festival begins hosting screenings and filmmaker Q&As at 10 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 30) at the AMC Broadway, 1441 Third Street Promenade. Tickets are $20 to $50 at smff.org.

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