The Other Venice Film Festival will celebrate its sixth year this month as a community supported event dedicated to screening films, presenting musicians and showcasing art that embody the spirit, energy and diversity of Venice Beach.
“Venice Beach Sushi,” one of the featured films, represents all three of these components, bringing a story that Venice residents can relate to in one way or another.
Creator Jay Anthony, who also co-produced, co-wrote and acted in the film, has a master’s degree in organizational communication. His dissertation was on qualitative observation, a subject in which the writer studies people, does an analysis of what they’ve seen and then writes a thesis on their findings. In that vein, he says he has always paid close attention to people, especially to details.
Jay was working at a sushi bar when he came up with the idea of writing a story using that environment as a backdrop, integrating into the storyline the treasure trove of characters he has observed from the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
“I always thought it would be a great idea to take such an eclectic group of people and put them together as a family in a workplace,” he says.
Remember the television sitcoms “Alice” (neighborhood diner 1976-1985) and “Cheers” (neighborhood bar 1982-1993)? “Venice Beach Sushi” is an updated neighborhood version with more diversity, he says.
“Venice Beach has so many different genres, demographics and personas,” says Jay. He also refers to the dichotomy of what is perceived and what is real.
“I wanted to portray the characters in a way that shows the difference in how they can be completely opposite in the faÁade they are projecting,” he says. “So, I put them all together and let the mayhem begin.”
While there are many longtime residents in Venice, the denizens of the beach tend to be transient. An undercurrent theme of the story is finding one’s place and feeling at home away from home. Norm Peterson in “Cheers” felt more at home at the bar than he did with his wife, Vera.
Film viewers travel the journey of the new owner, who happens to be an African American born in England, coming to Venice from Philadelphia to sell the bar that she got in a divorce settlement. Although there is camaraderie among the cast of characters, there is also conflict, which Jay says makes a better story. The conflict is resolved at the end when Ashley Ferguson, the owner, finds her sense of belonging.
It’s the comedic relationships between employees and customers, and the events that lead to how she makes this decision that is the storyline.
Executive producer Rufus Dorsey, who also co-wrote and acted in the film, does not live in Venice but he calls it a home away from home and says coming here is getting away without really getting away.
“Venice is an escape from reality for me,” he says. “It puts me in a different place and I love the uniqueness of the people.”
Rufus was selective in submitting the short to film festivals.
“I wanted to make sure it was a festival that I resonated with that would understand Venice Beach and the sushi aspect of the movie,” he says. “Sushi is a mixture of different fish.”
In following that theme, the characters are an assortment of unlike personalities. Rufus is also proud of the diversity in the people who put the film together — he is African American, Jay is Caucasian and Minh Collins, the director and a co-producer, is Asian.
“I’m reaching out to work with different people,” he says. “I love that we could all come together. It was a good test because you don’t always agree on everything. That’s just life.” He says he was also thrilled to be complimented by the actors because they thought that the set was one of the most professional they have worked on.
Venice Beach Sushi was a labor of love, he says. Rufus actually compared the process to a woman being pregnant because the film was like his baby. “I was there from the first word and to see the story on the screen as a finished product is one of the things I enjoy most about the process of making a film,” he says.
There have been many movies and television shows shot in Venice, but none with an exclusive focus on the community. Rufus and Jay envision a Venice Beach Sushi television series.
“It’s something that can go on and on because of the great storylines about Venice,” says Rufus. “We can always have guest appearances with stars dropping into the sushi bar, and the waiters can interchange to introduce a new character with something to bring to the table and a fresh chemistry interacting with everyone else.”
The Other Venice Film Festival will run from Thursday to Sunday, October 15th to 18th.