David Pion-Berlin, a Professor and graduate advisor at the University of California Riverside, attended the Smog Dance Film Festival on Sunday at the remodeled Pomona Fox Theater with his daughter Emma, a 7th grader at El-Roble middle school. Their favorite film of the evening was a comedy called “Buster” directed by Pion-Berlin’s son, Jeremy. They also enjoyed “Wrong Number” directed by Barbara Murray and “Kung Fu English” directed by Hyun Oh. Smogdance was the first event to take place at the Fox Theater.
A lesbian Episcopalian priest shared the movie screen with an animated space hero last weekend at the 11th Annual Smogdance Film Festival.
Smogdance was the first major event to take place at the newly restored Pomona Fox Theater, which celebrated its 78th anniversary on April 24. Festival Director Charlotte Cousins was excited about opening night.
“I can’t believe after 10 years of dreaming, Friends of the Pomona Fox made this night happen,” Cousins said as she welcomed filmmakers and guests to the show.
Friends of the Pomona Fox is a non-profit organization and has been a key contributor in restoring the historic theater.
After movie lovers grabbed a bucket of popcorn and found their seats, the evening of movie screening began.
Films fell under one of four categories: documentary, comedy, experimental and animation. Upon entering the theater, guests were handed ballots in which they could rank their favorite movies of the night.
“I liked 'The Robot' one because it was really weird and had a good message,” Kathleen Dominguez, a junior from St. Lucy’s High School, said.
Dominguez referred to Franz Keller’s “Zebulon,” a six minute animated film about a kid who ventures out into space to learn about his true nature.
“Some of you might not know what you were watching,” Keller said humorously at the after festival party in the dA Center for the Arts.
This is the first time Smogdance has expanded its program to include informal discussions with filmmakers after each night of screening. At the end of the discussion, the Weldon Award (audience choice) winners of the evening were announced.
While animated films claimed many praises and compliments, it was the documentaries that had people talking.
Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Saul Landau was Saturday night’s Weldon Award winner for his film “We Don’t Play Golf Here.” This 33 minute documentary explored the activism against corporate greed in Mexico.
He interviewed everyone from high powered political officials to poor indigenous Mexican workers, whose culture and environment were being
stripped thanks to foreign investments in Third World export factories.
At the after festival party people asked how he was able to take his camera into private governed areas without being caught.
“We needed permits but didn’t get any,” Landau said. “Filmmakers are notoriously stupid.”
Documentaries covered a wide scope of life situations. One favorite was “The Constant Process,” by Douglas Hunter, which explores the journey of Susan Russel, a lesbian Episcopalian priest.
Others told inspiring stories such has “Teresa,” which follows the story of a young woman trying to live a normal life despite living with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder.
University of La Verne’s own alumni, Chris Davis and Gina Sandoval, also contributed to the documentary category with their films “Mear One” and “Timmy Wheels.”
“It was great to have more than 100 people at one time view my film,” Davis said. “Hopefully this will lead to bigger and greater things.”
The audience also loved the comedies, which were strategically scheduled to follow immediately after films with serious subject matters.
"Voor Een Paar Knikkers Meer (For a Few Marbles More)," also an audience favorite pick, was a European film about children reclaiming their playground after two drunkards invaded their turf.
Although the European format caused parts of the English subtitles to be cut off, the audience understood what was happening as the children peed into squirt guns and sprayed the drunkards out of the playground.
By far the most unique films of the night came out of the experimental category. Amir Motlagh, a returning Smogdance participant from 2004, presented his film “Plain Us.”
“My desire to have a baby girl inspired this film,” Motlagh said.
The film revolves around a musician, played by Motlagh himself, who returns home to see his estranged girlfriend and daughter only to realize that it would never work out and he leaves again.
It was challenging to be the director and actor, especially when it comes to blocking the camera movement, Motlagh said.
Other experimental films dealt with realistic issues such as interracial dating. “ Holding Hands,” by Cal State Fullerton senior Brett Meyer, depicted the struggles of a black woman and white man being accepted in society.
In the film the woman wears a shirt that reads “White Power” and the man wears a shirt that reads “I love Niggers” and they both walk hand in hand down the streets enjoying the public’s’ reaction.
Smogdance was well received by visitors from far away and those from around the Pomona community.
“I feel like an insider of the Fox since I live down the street,” Priscilla Aguilera, a Pomona resident said. “I love how I don’t have to travel far to hang out at a cool place.”
Hundreds of people made their way through the newly restored Pomona Fox during the three night festival, bringing the downtown district to new life. And the nightlife is not expected to end anytime soon now that the Pomona Fox is up and running again.
Mark Vidal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.