17th annual topanga film festival

Topanga Canyon Comes Alive With The 17th Annual Topanga Film Festival

Home » Topanga Canyon Comes Alive With The 17th Annual Topanga Film Festival

By Gabriel Studt

In a season chock full of major film festivals, a small gem could be found this month in
Topanga Canyon. The 17th annual Topanga Film Festival took place over the week of October
4th to 9th and offered a wonderfully diverse array of programming that brought Topanga natives
together with people coming from all over the world to get a taste of what gives this canyon such
a unique flavor.

The festival began virtually on the 4th with free, interactive screenings in which all were
welcome. These included special screenings and discussions of the work of iconic filmmakers,
such as Charlie Chaplin and Jean Luc Goddard, panels ranging from AI screenwriting to the role
that NFTs play in the art world, and showcases of the work of filmmakers who we often don’t
have the chance to see, such as the young and the marginalized.

Those able to come into the canyon for the in-person portion of the festival were treated
to the wonderful atmosphere that exists in the Topanga community. The excitement was
palpable during each screening at Froggy’s and Corazon, with each reception and after party
bringing filmmakers from all over the country and the wider world to discuss their work with an
interested audience.

One of the most exciting segments of the festival was the Topanga Showcase on the 8th
with the documentaries Malibu Song and In Hollywood’s Backyard presenting the history of the
canyon and the lives of those who call it home. These films brought many of the more eccentric
members of the community out to the festival, with many in the audience having been featured
in these films or were the family members of those who were. These were followed by Sound of
Surf, a documentary up for competition about the birth of surf rock in Los Angeles and its
subsequent commercialization by the music industry. The night ended with a special screening
of Richard Yelland’s Birth of the Endless Summer: The Discovery of Cape Frances, which
detailed the creation of Bruce Brown’s iconic documentary The Endless Summer. Discussing
these films at the following receptions with those creators and participants above the leafy
expanse of the canyon was an experience that attendees won’t soon forget.

The beautiful environment in which this festival took place lent itself well to those films
with a conservation message. Apart from the environmental shorts, the Indigenous Peoples’
Showcase on the final night of the festival provoked the most difficult questions about our
natural world and the detrimental effects our modern practices have upon it. Inhabitants followed
four tribes across diverse American ecosystems and the ways in which their traditional land
management practices could point a way towards a solution to the escalating climate crisis. The
Territory tells a more specific story about the struggle to defend against further encroachment
into and degradation of protected areas of the Amazon rainforest. Each film was beautifully
short and carried with it an important message on our role and responsibilities in this fragile
world which the subsequent panels were able to hammer home. As we were experiencing these
films in Topanga, a canyon especially threatened by the environmental crisis through water
droughts and wildfires, the beautiful but delicate landscape helped to personalize and internalize
the stakes of this fight.

Sunday night brought the festival to a close with their award ceremony which honored
the films in competition. With so many excellent films up for consideration, the judges had their
work cut out for them and spoke about the difficulty of selecting one film for each category. The
Coveted Coyote Awards were given out to the best short film as well as the best narrative and
documentary features, with Life is a Particle Time is a Wave walking away with the Best Festival
Short award, Lovely Jackson with Best Documentary Feature, and Promises with Best Narrative
Feature. Special Jury Selections were given to films in several categories, such as Emerging
Young Filmmaker and Mental Health Awareness. Shayne Pax, the director of Peridot, was
recognized for talent and exceptional achievement with his directorial debut and Solstice was
recognized for its examination of the survivors of suicide and its powerful call to action to
change the mental health system. In a festival so full of movies with important messages, the
Social Impact Award was a competitive one but was ultimately given to The Territory for its
importance in the ongoing struggles of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people as well as its wider
relevance to all our lives. A full list of the award winners can be found at the Topanga Film
Festival’s official Instagram page.

Those who missed what Filmmaker Magazine called “one of the coolest film festivals in the
world,” still had the chance to experience it within the comfort of their own home through October 30th, where all these films and more were available for free. Still missed it? Keep an eye out for information on next year’s festival where you’ll be able to experience all this creative, entertaining, and edifying content for yourself before you see it become more acclaimed in the wider world, perhaps even at the next Academy Awards.

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