Film: The local film festival will have options for live viewing and through an online partnership. Courtesy image

Cinephiles should prepare their popcorn, because whether they are attending in person at the Laemmle or streaming from home, they will not want to miss the stellar line up of independent films at the upcoming Santa Monica Film Festival.

The festival, now in its 16th iteration, is spearheaded by Santa Monica native David Katz, who is a director and producer with a passion for helping emerging filmmakers get their movies in front of an audience.

“I understand the struggle to make a film and have experienced it on many levels,” said Katz. “And while it’s one thing to get a film made, it’s another thing to get it seen, so that’s why film festivals are important to the filmmaking circuit and what it takes to have a successful career.”

This year there are 53 official selections in the festival, including feature length films, documentaries and short films. Eight of the selections will be screened in-person at the Laemmle Santa Monica Film Center on Jan. 15, and all of them will be available for streaming on xolo.org from Jan. 15 to Jan. 31.

To make the festival as accessible as possible this year, Katz is offering residents a complimentary all-screening pass, which can be redeemed by using the promo code “smdp” to register for tickets at santamonicafilmfestival.eventbrite.com.

The films featured in the festival span a breadth of topics and represent artists from a range of diverse backgrounds. Highlights include the heartbreaking documentary on Canadian Indigenous children “FOR LOVE;” a unique horror movie called “A Savannah Haunting;” and a feature comedy called “Wing Dad,” which is about the struggles to maintain a small business during the pandemic.

The festival is co-hosted by Human Rights Watch as the organization is seeking to raise awareness about the abuses faced by Indigenous children through the screening of “FOR LOVE.”

This documentary sheds light on the atrocities inflicted on Indigenous peoples by the Canadian child welfare system. It discusses both the horrors of the past and the means that indigenous people are using to regain control of their children to preserve their families and traditions for future generations.

“We are honored that they (Human Rights Watch) have come in to co-host the event,” said Katz. “They’re helping to make sure that the world is informed about the indigenous people in the story that ‘FOR LOVE’ exposes.”

Katz said he is also particularly excited for the screening of “A Savannah Haunting,” which is a horror film based on supernatural experiences that the writer/director and his family claims to have experienced in their home in Savannah for decades. According to Katz, the filming caused so many frightening incidents that the crew almost quit during production. Another interesting aspect about the movie is that it was produced by Santa Monica resident Alexis Nelson.

“It’s important to the Santa Monica Film Festival that we always have a selection of films that are produced or directed or written or made by Santa Monica residents,” said Katz. “Making a film is a communal effort, so when you get it done it’s something that should be celebrated within your community.”

Another exciting part of the festival is that it will mark the world premiere of the movie “Wing Dad.” This comedy was made by a husband and wife filmmaking team and tells the tale of a neurotic coffee shop owner trying to keep his business afloat while being paid a visit by his semi-famous alcoholic father.

The festival features films and shorts across all types of genres and is designed to have something that will appeal to any kind of moviegoer.

“This is a film festival produced by filmmakers for the community and it’s something that we’re excited to be in our 16th year,” said Katz. “We’re looking forward to going back to some normality in the future, but we’re excited to have branched out to have an online aspect this year as it’s really giving us an opportunity to reach a larger audience.”

More information is available on all of the films and screenings at www.santamonicafilmfestival.com/

Clara@smdp.com