By Peter Belsito | SydneysBuzz July 4, 2013 at 3:30PM
We are always glad to see Fests close to L.A. in new places and the desert outside of L.A. is also one of our favorite places. And ... the Dennis Hopper award personally moved me. In UCLA film school in 1967 Dennis was in a somewhat notorious movie I photographed and we remained friends. He was, to say the least, a very interesting guy. New Coachella Valley Festival AMFM (Art, Music, Film and More) wrapped its inaugural outing with an awards ceremony held at the Buddy Rogers Theatre in Cathedral “Cat” City on June 17. Festival organizers Rich Henrich and Rob Galarza of Film 4 Change gave awards in several categories from among the 108 total entries in the festival:
Best Film went to Gary King’s film How To Write A Joe Schermann Song and the festival accepted on his behalf.
Best Documentary Award went to American Road, directed by Kurt Jacobsen and Warren Leming. The film, which “delves into the artistic, musical and literary resonances of the mystique of the road – and especially of veering off the beaten track - in American lore,” made its world premiere at the Festival. Accepting the award was Ed Asner who narrated parts of the film. He said, “I am truly honored they chose it--particularly because it’s in a festival Viggo won an award in—and I am a great admirer of his. As for American Road, take a lesson from it. It is a beautiful piece of work.”
Best Feature went to Slamdance award winner Joy De V, by Nadia Szold.
Best Short went to Jason Guy McLagan for Elegy For Eden, which also screened at Slamdance. Accepting the award, he said “Thank you for being here. I don’t have anything else to say. Thank you."
Best Music Video was, Loneley, by Alethea Root for the artist Azhia. She said, “I really won an award? Thanks y’all, it was locally produced and shot here in the desert.”
Best Director went to Tony Glazer, director of Junction, which also world premiered at the Festival. He said, “Thanks for the honor of this award and for having the film in this festival; this is everything indie filmmakers want to be a part of. They say it takes a village. Well, it takes a small nation army to make a film and I am indebted to them—the actors, the crew, and even the financiers. This film would not be what it is without their involvement.”
Matthew Millan’s We Win Or We Die won the award for best short documentary. He remarked, “Thanks for having us. Thanks to the Libyan people and to my own stupidity for going there. People are still suffering there in Benghazi and that’s what this is all about.”
Special Jury Award was presented to Joseph Laraja’s comedy about a Northeastern seafood cook-off, The Golden Scallop. Laraja said, “This is a complete thrill all the way around—everyone has been lovely and it’s a tremendous honor."
The Wally Award for is given by a panel of judges to San Diego State University students. Students come in and pitch a film idea. Winners get an award and cash but most of all they gain the confidence to make it in this industry. The award is conferred by UltraStar Cinemas VP Wally Schlotter.
For Spring 2013 the award went to Plain White Tee. Director/ Producer Devin Dolan said, “What a great learning experience. A good experience our first festival. Thanks to our actors and crew and friends and family.”
The Festival presented a Best No-Show to His Own Poetry Reading to actor Michael Madsen—who was of course unavailable to receive it. His schedule reading at the Ace Hotel Saturday night didn’t deter the audience, who rose up and turned the evening into an impromptu poetry slam—reading their own work as well as Madsen’s and other poets’. Amazingly, about half the audience had their own material handy, including JUNCTION’s Neil Bledsoe, and director Alex Kleinert, who read a poem about wild horses based on his Festival film Wild Horses And Renegades.
Johnny Dowers, FX’s The Bridge star, presented two awards. First was the Cinephile Award. It went to the individual who went to the most events, who volunteered and assisted and who generally “helped make it happen.” This award went to David Gardener. He received a bag of Festival swag labeled “I Got Swag.” “He said, “I have no idea what I am doing up here but I am happy about it.”
The Film 4 Change Humanitarian Award went to Ellen Jefferson for her immigrations documentary The Second Cooler. She said, “I am so excited I want to cry. Thanks to the festival for including me, thanks to Tyler Snyder (her web designer) for encouraging me. Corporate greed…I can’t go into all of that now. I hope this film can give a lot of people so much hope. People who are waiting to make that crossing, people who have been deported, a lot of hope for those that have had to follow their deported loved ones into exile and want to be reunited. “
Film 4 Change recognized a photographer with the Film 4 Change Photographer of the Year Award, which went to Craig Semetko. Henrich said, “His work captures moments in the American spirit. Wherever he goes in the world, his lens follows it and captures it.” Semetko in turn thanked the organizers. “They worked tirelessly, sleeplessly. Now it’s officially a tradition. I think about how I got started taking photographs. It was a desire to tell people’s stories. As an actor, I have been a people watcher my entire life. Maybe with a camera I can tell stories in a different medium.” He exhorted the crowd, “Be true to yourself and remember that kernel of passion that started you on your path to creativity. Keep that thing that fed your soul to begin with. Be authentic.”
Finally Henrich and Galarza honored acclaimed actor and artist Viggo Mortensen with the Dennis Lee Hopper Award.
Mortensen is the fourth artist to receive the award, named for (and originally presented to) renegade renaissance man Dennis Hopper. Film 4 Change previously bestowed the award to Dean Stockwell and Alex Cox at the Albuquerque Film Festival. AMFM embraces the sprit of Hopper and the Festival’s motto: hip, cool, funny, strange, social change. “We are a community of artists committed to having pride in what we do and dedicated to making our country great through artistic and creative innovation,” Henrich said.
Here’s some excerpts from Mortensen on accepting the award: “it’s a hell of an honor due to its connection to Dennis, with that it couldn’t be more meaningful to me. “I’ve been to some awards programs that are a load of self-important crap compared to this. Thank you. I look forward to future festivals—this is a great idea and it will grow and grow, I am sure it will. Thanks to Jared Davis, Hugh Millstein, and Digital Fusion Los Angeles; more is going to be inflicted on you on screen [in a montage of art and poetry that followed the presentation].”
He continued, “[It was] kind of hard to pick from thousands of images, something that was concise enough that feels the connection that comes across that that I have with Dennis and his work. There’s something about Dennis and what he means to lots of artists.
“Dennis Hopper was not generally thought to be a recluse or hermit. He managed to share moments of creativity and wild excess with others. He was socially active by nature, and always curious about people. But he also emphasized that to be an engaged, conscious artists is to essentially be alone, to come to terms with mysteries we all have to face. The absurd side of being alive can be the source of joy. He used laughter; he used it as an important weapon against darkness. The joke was always on him, with laughter—he looked for a joke to make one and to be one, but valued fearlessness and curiosity in others.”
Mortensen concluded by reading a poem read when Hopper got his star on Hollywood Boulevard, a poem by Hopper’s fellow Kansan William Stafford: For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.
There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot–air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.
AMFM Fest ran June 13 -16, 2013 at the UltraStar Mary Pickford Theater, the Cathedral City Town Square and other select desert venues. Film 4 Change’s mission is to bring communities together through the power of story and the art of laughter while showcasing the best emerging talent and thought leaders in art, music, film, photography and comedy. The Festival features six world premiere films (more than 50 in all), dozens of live shows, comedy, fine art, spoken word, seminars, a Celebrity Indy Kart Race and more. Other celebrity guests ranged from Ed Asner, Jason London, Jason Mewes, David Zayas, and Tinsel Korey to filmmakers Monte Hellman, Adrian Belic, Gary King, Jesse Baget and even the Coachella Valley’s own Christian Sesma.