Santa Monica Pier (File photo)

One of my hobbies is photography and videography. It started in high school when I was working on the school newspaper and I borrowed my brother’s camera to take some photos of the baseball team. They were horrible. Literally every shot was out of focus. It was how I learned that I needed glasses.

But a love affair was born that day with being able to freeze time and tell a story with a picture. It continued to college where I was Editor of the school’s yearbook two years in a row.

In those olden days we used actual film, and you didn’t know what you shot really until it was developed. Being a photographer then, every day seemed like Christmas when you would get the prints back.

After college I put down the camera while I was in law school, and afterwards the divorce and family law practice took over and there was not as much time for shooting. About four years ago I decided I wanted create YouTube videos answering legal questions for men about child support and child custody, planning for a divorce and fighting domestic violence restraining orders.

A sleeping dragon was awakened. I bought a Canon T3i and started shooting. Again, horrible results at first. But I watched videos on how to work in this new digital world of instantaneous results and how to use this new camera that let me take photos and video and unsurprisingly, I became more proficient.

Part of this adventure into new media led me to NewFilmMakersLA (NFMLA). A group of young filmmakers who share their short films and talk movies. About every month they have a screening and throughout the year other events. Since I’m on the mailing list I get invites to fun events around town, this past weekend it was the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival (LAHIFF) down in San Pedro.

The LAHIFF has been around for 12 years now and runs a weekend long series of showings. From opening night with a classic movie like “The Red Pony” to a shorts program in conjunction with NFMLA.

The event is held annually in the Warner Grand theater in San Pedro, and frankly even if all the shorts had been nothing but blank screen existentialist, post-modern, neo-horsemanure, it would have been worth the trip. The Warner Grand is an amazing theater and we are lucky that the City of Los Angeles bought and put it under the management of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Lee Sweet Manager. This is an architectural dream theater, the ceiling is stunning, the carved woodwork amazing, and the details have been faithfully maintained.

The NFMLA shorts program this year had 19 winners out of over 100 entries. The theme was “What Does L.A. Mean To You?” So the movies were short essays on life in Los Angeles from various viewpoints. There was a wide range of movies from claymation, rock videos, portraits of artists, and from documentary style to narrative style movies.

But the one thing that struck me the most was how often the city of Santa Monica played a role as a location. In about 40-50 percent of the movies I saw our city. Everything from the iconic Pier to the Promenade. Some of our local street artists were included, beach scenes and I think one restaurant that I love were in movies that screened on Sunday.

That tells me a great deal about how important our city is the rest of Los Angeles. As the gateway to the Pacific we are both a landing pad and a launching pad for new adventures. The independent filmmakers that used our locations, attractions and artists as background for their stories are saying something very important how valuable this city is. We are a star, and we should work very hard to remember that, and to remind our council members of how much we value the city.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.

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