Director Gus Van Sant (center) on the set of Milk.
Director Gus Van Sant (center) on the set of Milk.

Film festival brings back ‘reel’ movies

A shiny new version of a beloved annual event will debut as the San Diego Film Festival returns Sept. 26-30.

Originally an event more renowned for its parties, a number of different creative renovations have taken place and the festival, in it’s eleventh year now, will launch under new leadership for the first time.

For the first time in its history, the festival will include a second location, expanding from downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter to La Jolla. Screenings will be held at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15 and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

The festival will include more films, with nearly 200 this year plucked from over 1,300 entries from 55 different countries.

At the forefront of the new additions will be a tribute and awards evening honoring Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Gus Van Sant, a distinction that no other film festival has done before.

“Regional festivals are some of the best,” Van Sant told the U-T San Diego during a phone interview from his home in Portland, OR. “I’ve gone to a lot of different festivals over the last 30 years, and the smaller ones are some of my favorites.”

A retrospective of his work will be showcased during the duration of the festival kicking off with a 15th anniversary screening of “Good Will Hunting” on Sept. 27. “Milk,” “My Own Private Idaho,” and “To Die For” will also screen and Van Sant himself will make an appearance, as well.

According to the U-T, organizers hope that the renowned director’s presence at a more intimate and localized festival will help bring attention to local filmmakers.

Highlights for the festival will include the opening night premiere of early Oscar favorite “The Sapphires,” “The Oranges” starring Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester, “Seven Psychopaths” with Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, and “Grassroots” directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal and starring Jason Biggs, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom Arnold and Lauren Ambrose.

Another film getting early Oscar buzz is “The Silver Linings Playbook” starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. It was added to the lineup after receiving the Blackberry People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Film selection is large, including a bevy of feature films, shorts, documentaries, world cinema features and children screenings.

A new “Native American Voices” category has been introduced and the festival promises to include more industry panels and interactive question and answer sessions with filmmakers.

Despite the dramatic changes, the festival promises to deliver on old traditions by hosting a dozen parties and red carpet events throughout the week including an “Almost Famous” block-party that will open the festival.

The festival hopes to integrate major regional media to bring more attention to the festival and the growth it’s undergone through the last year.

Tickets start at $14 for pre-sale and $16 at the door. Day passes are available for $75 and range up to $500 for a VIP pass to all screenings, premieres, events, and panels on all days.

Originally founded in 2001, the festival is an annual event that is produced by the non-profit San Diego Film Foundation.

For more information and a complete schedule of films and events visit

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Film festival brings back ‘reel’ movies