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SLO International Film Fest postpones events until April 26 through May 1 

click to enlarge 'I'M DECENT!' The showing of the 1929 silent film Why Be Good?—starring former Paso Robles resident Colleen Moore (center)—has been rescheduled from Jan. 23 to March 17, in the SLO Performing Arts Center, brought to you by Cal Poly Arts.

Photo Courtesy Of First National Pictures

'I'M DECENT!' The showing of the 1929 silent film Why Be Good?—starring former Paso Robles resident Colleen Moore (center)—has been rescheduled from Jan. 23 to March 17, in the SLO Performing Arts Center, brought to you by Cal Poly Arts.

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival is banking on COVID-19 beginning to retreat by mid-spring, which is why it recently announced the festival would be postponed until Tuesday, April 26, through Sunday, May 1, this year. Organizers are hard at work creating safe, in-person events.

"That was a big part of the reason we pushed it back because we really do want return to all of our favorite venues," Executive Director Skye McLennan said during a recent Zoom call. "We'll be back at the Fremont, the Palm Theatre, Downtown Centre Cinemas, Park Cinemas in Paso Robles, and we're also working to confirm a few other venues. We'll possibly do some outside screenings as well. We thought the weather might be more cooperative later in spring. We've noticed people seem to be more comfortable with outside events, so we plan on doing a mixture of both."

Last year's festival was entirely virtual—the only safe option at the time—but McLennan and Associate Director Grace Tucker found that the new modality opened the festival to a wider audience.

click to enlarge EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Skye McLennan has been hard at work rescheduling this year's film fest to offer in-person screenings as safely as possible, as well as a virtual component, now scheduled for April 26 through May 1. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
  • Photos Courtesy Of The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Skye McLennan has been hard at work rescheduling this year's film fest to offer in-person screenings as safely as possible, as well as a virtual component, now scheduled for April 26 through May 1.

"We got amazing feedback after our virtual program last year," McLennan said. "Some of our residents like North County and South County—it was hard for them to come to SLO—so we got a lot of people accessing the film festival virtually. They really loved the concept, pandemic or not, because they were able to experience the films."

McLennan added that film festivals worldwide are now keeping a virtual component not only to expand audiences but because it makes film festivals more accessible for people with disabilities or other issues that make in-person attendance a challenge.

"There are also expanded opportunities for a lot of filmmakers if they're not from the area to have their families and friends have access to their films on a festival platform without them having to fly into the area," Tucker added.

This year, attendees can buy individual in-person and virtual tickets, hybrids, or full festival passes at slofilmfest.org.

"Live screenings are $15 and virtual are $12, and there's also a fully virtual all-access pass or an all-access mogul pass, which is in-person or virtual," Tucker explained.

This year the festival received a record number of submissions—more than 900—which they're whittling down to about 10 feature-length narrative and 10 feature-length documentaries, about 12 narrative shorts and 12 documentary shorts, 10 Filmmakers of Tomorrow (a youth competition), 10 Central Coast Filmmakers, and 10 music videos. Organizers say "about 10" to leave room to add more if entries are too outstanding to deny.

"It's pretty competitive," McLennan admitted. "We really want to be more selective with the films so that each film we pick can really be fully promoted so we get a good turnout for the screenings. It was really encouraging knowing there were still people out there making films despite the pandemic, and being really creative. We have a really strong lineup."

McLennan and Tucker are also actively looking for volunteers, which make the festival work.

click to enlarge ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR Grace Tucker, as well as Skye McLennan and their team of screeners, has pored over more than 900 entries to pare the festival down to about 80 offerings. Early bird discount passes are available through Jan. 31. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
  • Photos Courtesy Of The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR Grace Tucker, as well as Skye McLennan and their team of screeners, has pored over more than 900 entries to pare the festival down to about 80 offerings. Early bird discount passes are available through Jan. 31.

"We rely on volunteer support, and we're looking for people to do a wide range of things at the festival, from checking people in to helping host filmmakers to helping out in our headquarters, ticketing, anything," McLennan said. "You can volunteer for one shift, which is usually a couple hours, or you can do a lot. It's a great opportunity to get involved, and you can sign up on our website."

What they're most excited about is getting back to live events. Last year they recorded more than 60 virtual Q-and-A's with filmmakers, but in-person events offer so much more.

"We hope people come out and support these filmmakers," McLennan said. "They've had a very difficult couple of years and are very eager to show their films to an audience. I think we forget just how great that feels for a filmmaker, and how great it is to be there and to witness that. I'm really looking forward to returning to in-person and reminding people of the magic of cinema."

McLennan and Tucker do have a plan in place to shift to virtual if the pandemic takes a nasty turn, but early indications suggest the omicron variant is peaking and will hopefully peter out by spring.

The bottom line is film festivals like this offer a voice for independent cinema, for films that would never get made in Hollywood. Independent films are where the risks are taken, and film festivals offer one of the few places to see these kinds of film. For people who love movies, this is really a must-see event.

"It really is," McLennan said. "I hear a lot about the streaming platforms and the crazy amount of content we have now. I have Hulu and, like, six other platforms I subscribe to, so when you sit down to watch, there are overwhelming choices.

"I think what people forget is we're creating a curation of films and highlighting and championing films that would get completely lost in the shuffle." Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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