In a summer awash in superheroes and giant robots, a Santa Monica film festival counter-programs with human-scale fare by local directors

By Michael Aushenker

A scene from Clare Fog’s “Improvising,” a feature-length comedy screening during Cinema at the Edge

A scene from Clare Fog’s “Improvising,” a feature-length comedy screening during Cinema at the Edge

If you’ve had it up to your web-shooters with Marvel superheroes or if Michael Bay’s strobe light-edited “Transformers 4” gives you headaches, consider the more subtle charms of this weekend’s 2nd annual Cinema at the Edge Independent Film Festival, where local filmmakers present movies on a more human scale.

“Cinema at the Edge is such an important film festival because it specifically focuses on new and emerging filmmakers,” said Natalie Metzger, producer of the film “Out of Her Element,” which chronicles a circle of old friends whose chance reunion unlocks their inner demons.

The film was directed by Santa Monica resident Diane Lansing who studied acting with Larry Moss on the Third Street Promenade and attended a two-year screenwriters’ boot camp at Bergamot Station.

Teferi Seifu, also a Santa Monica resident, offers “No Actors Allowed,” in which two lovers’ relationship derails while they star in a production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”

For “A Star for a Rose,” shot partly in Santa Monica and for a total $10,000, Daniel Yost landed actual stars: “Fame” actress and choreographer Debbie Allen and “The Deer Hunter” star John Savage. In Yost’s film, Allen plays a woman living in a cardboard box while Savage portrays a wheelchair-bound Gulf War veteran.

Coinciding with the festival (hosted by Tanya Memme of A&E’s “Sell This House”) is “Under One Sky,” the first artistic still photography exhibition by motion picture photographer Michael Desmond.

A Marina del Rey resident of 13 years, Desmond forged a friendship with film unit photographer Richard Foreman (“No Country for Old Men,” “Mission Impossible: II”) after a friend helped him onto the set of the 2000 John Travolta movie “Lucky Number.” That became Desmond’s lucky number, as Foreman helped him forge his own unit photography career. Desmond has shot on “Weeds,””House of Lies,” “Masters of Sex, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” as well as for Puppy Chow, Coca-Cola and Carl’s Jr. advertisements.

“It was a dream for me to do what I do and a very long, challenging process to get there,” Desmond said. “When you spend 12 or 14 hours on the set, you better love what you do!”

The 15 portraits in Desmond’s “Under One Sky” come from some 10,000 images Desmond took while traveling around the globe.

The international market, incidentally, has become Hollywood’s most lucrative. And given the dominance of translatable blockbusters such as “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Godzilla” and the new “Transformers” sequel over smaller, more personal fare, the festival’s modestly budgeted movies have their makers thinking about their own self-purpose.

“I’ve always been told to write what I want to see,” Lansing said. “The more intimate, character-driven stories are what resonate with me, yet I like to think there is room for all of us.”

“I feel that Hollywood needs to tone down the remakes and sequels. They are so afraid of losing money they will turn down a great new drama, family, or tent pole script to ensure a profit,” said filmmaker Alexander G. Seyum, whose “Shadow in the Wind” screens during Cinema at the Edge.

But Seyum isn’t exactly mourning the loss of indie filmmaking, which he described as “in a new era” in which digital technology has made filmmaking more accessible.

Based on festivals that he’s attended, “Lost Music” screenwriter Dale Griffith Stamos is heartened by the current state of cinema.

“The art form is alive and well and much of it is being produced independently,” said Stamos, whose film deals with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and stars Emmy-winning actress Barbara Bain (“Mission: Impossible”).

“Movies used to be both art and commerce. Today, the majority of studio movies are only commerce, products to sell along with processed food, processed drugs [and] an endless parade of not-needed objects,” Yost said. “One studio executive recently told me he won’t watch what his own studio makes and releases. He only wants to see human stories.”

Perhaps a good start for said executive would be this weekend’s “Cinema at the Edge.”

Festival screenings run Friday through Sunday and “Under One Sky” opens from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight and runs through November at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Call (310) 399-3666 or visit