‘Leap of Faith’

Pasadena film festival looking to make September return

By Connor Dziawura

After a “nightmare” 2020, the Pasadena International Film Festival is looking to get back into the swing of things as the summer winds down.

Jessica Hardin, festival director, describes the COVID-19 pandemic as creating a snowball effect of closures and cancellations in March 2020, leading up to the Pasadena festival becoming yet another casualty.

“We had our festival in March, and the pandemic shut it down, so it was just a nightmare,” Hardin recalls. “We lost so much money.”

From that point on, the past year and a half turned into a waiting game — first waiting for it to be safe to reschedule and finish the 2020 event in person, something that never came, then waiting for the right time to set up this year’s festival.

Normally a springtime event, the annual Pasadena International Film Festival has found the time from September 9 to September 16. Once again slated for the Playhouse Village, the festival is expected to show more than 130 films from 15 countries. Submissions are being accepted through August 13.

“We cut it down to the wire because the longer we have submissions, the more films we’re able to choose from. So, it’s really stressful — like, scary,” Hardin admits with a laugh. “But we find that so far it’s worked out for us.”

Though they have yet to be finalized, films will vary between feature and short lengths, live action and animated, whether fiction or documentary. Music videos and web series are even anticipated. There will also be moderated Q&As and free panels.

“We do not discriminate,” Hardin says.

“We want everything, because we figured — I don’t know how niche festivals do it — the more open our selection, the better quality that we’ll get. And it’s also we get really unique things, too, and that’s just my own personal taste. … We had a silent film that was really cool. People get really creative and inventive.

“We try to create a diverse panoply of product. So, if we get 100 vampire movies and they’re all fantastic, then that’s tough because you’re all vampire movies. We want to celebrate diversity, and not necessarily in a racial way, but literally the meaning of ‘diverse’ where we have a wide variety of all different sorts of films. We have shorts, features, documentaries, music videos, webisodes. So, I mean, the only thing we’re really looking for is quality.”

As to much of the specifics on this year’s festival, however, the details are still being worked out.

“I really don’t think I’ll know until it actually happens. I mean, we sort of just have to go by a leap of faith,” Hardin admits. “I thought June 15, when everything opened up, ‘everything’ would open up. But people are still leery. Places don’t want to host events.”

What has been confirmed, however, is that screenings will once again take place at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, while the Lyd & Mo Photography Studio down the road will transform into the Passholders Lounge with an open bar. At 7 p.m. Thursday, September 16, nearby cocktail lounge The Speakeasy will host the Great Gatsby Gala and Award Ceremony, a 1920s-themed, black-tie-optional closing celebration for guests ages 21 and older.

“We try to utilize as many businesses as possible in the city to bring a lot of tourism and revenue to the city,” Hardin says.

As it stands, Hardin says an online component isn’t planned for this September. When organizers were unable to reschedule the canceled festival in person some other time last year, they turned to hosting screenings and other events online in the fall. But Hardin says the virtual festival didn’t resonate with audiences as strongly as had been hoped, and she says the standard in-person format is better for industry networking anyway.

“I’ve debated that since we started, because I always felt for people who say they have a grandma or somebody that can’t travel, that can’t get on a plane or even drive or something like that, and it’s a great way for somebody who may have missed your screening to see it online; but we got such little response and it was so much work, it didn’t really seem worth it to me,” Hardin explains, clarifying that depending on demand, it’s not entirely off the table.

As to how the new dates will affect the future of the festival, Hardin says it’s a possibility that it returns to an earlier setting in the spring. That also has yet to be seen, though.

“To be honest, we’re just nervous about the future of movie theaters in general,” Hardin admits. “So it’s the kind of thing where you just have to play it by ear.”

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