Pasadena International Film Festival 2016 In depth

three years of success


April 13, 2016

Like a beautiful cultural river the Pasadena International Film Festival ( PIFF) continues a path which winds its way through the many socially pertinent topics in our world community. PIFF is having no problem reaching its own stride by creating a unique and compelling brand. This is its third successful year as the one and only competitive film festival in the historically rich Pasadena Playhouse District of Southern California and is held at the world famous Laemmle Playhouse 7 theater.

Filled with diversity, and not in any way tokenistic, the PIFF indeed mirrors the American fabric. Its presentation, style and film selections, from the welcome table in the lobby to the screening choices and the nightly after parties that follow, the atmosphere of PIFF ever leans towards humor, fun and an “understood” attitude of healing in our diverse and culturally homogeneous community. This appears to be the primary concept and driving force of founder Jessica Hardin and creative director, Marco Neves; it is a daunting task to undertake in the current world climate.

Marco’s exceptional talent in grouping several pieces; shorts, features, and docs of like subjects together in “blocks” and creating his own narrative within each block, is not unlike a famous DJ or a spin-master whose music you can’t help but dance to. He clearly has an overall thematic point of view that shines through within each block of films.

The various blocks, about 2 hrs each, are viewed in one auditorium followed by a Q and A with the filmmakers. These blocks run back to back consecutively during each day of the festival until the total of approximately 100 chosen entries has been screened. Wherein the screening with Q & A is usual, the intermittent live performances of a film’s musicians or its talent before the feature is a welcome bonus; reminiscent of the days when the grand old organ played just before the movie in the early 1900’s.

Here is where PIFF has carved a niche that will distinguish it from the norm. The blocks, pre- performances, diversity and nostalgic style mixed with current trends, fit perfectly with the ambiance of the beautiful Pasadena Playhouse District. Also, wherein most film festivals have so many movies to choose from; true cinephiles often leave wanting or wondering what they may have missed or whether they made the best choice of films to see. At PIFF, you have the opportunity to see every entry, if your stamina holds out, in these consecutive daily blocks.

As the Pasadena International Film Festival continues to grow its brand, it will be interesting to see if this system of block screenings will be presented in multiple auditoriums, in the same manner, giving the growing crowd of viewers the opportunity to view all films. Please scroll to the bottom of this article where you will find a few highlights and examples of the many excellent independent works screened at PIFF 2016.

The closing night Gala and Awards Ceremony of this year’s PIFF was held at The Speakeasy in Old Pasadena in total noir style. Entering through the ally at a secret door, after giving the password, a guy in an “expensive” suit ushers you through a passageway in the kitchen and on to the dimly lite main room; a 1920’s style joint. The excitement at the closing night party was palpable. The crowd of filmmakers, their families, festival insiders, and friends excitement rose to such a fever pitch it was difficult, at first, to hear the presentation of the well-deserved winners. Suffice to say everyone felt like winners here perhaps in part due to the spirit of achievement and acknowledgment the founders, crew, and volunteers provided the artists.

The next PIFF will be on the brink of spring 2017. Plan on going to the beautiful historic Pasadena Playhouse District in Pasadena California and join the festivities. As it continues to develop and grow, one can only hope the Pasadena International Film Festival will never lose its warm and friendly, culturally diverse, world-community essence.

As one moderator so succinctly stated during a Q&A, “….One never knows just how he or she will be moved, enlightened, or encouraged; you just might find yourself there.”

For more information about PIFF, to view the list of films and award winners, please visit.

‘Restoring Tomorrow’ Trailer

Restoring Tomorrow” ( Winner- Best Documentary) provided one of the most moving experiences at this year’s Pasadena International Film Festival. In “Restoring Tomorrow”, Director Aaron Wolf documents the one hundred and fifty million dollar restoration of the Wilshire Blvd Temple. The journey is clearly a labor of love to Aaron’s faith and ancestral home of worship. Originally built by the Jewish Hollywood Industry leaders, the Wilshire Temple has stood for years as a premiere home of worship. In recent years, however, the congregation had dwindled, as is true of many American faith- based institutions, and the structure that Aaron had loved so much as a child was in serious need of repair. Thus began his quest to document the hurdles and successes of repairing and preserving the Temple to its current landmark status. When asked how Aaron dealt with financial and personal obstacles he answered, ” Jews have a wonderful objective perspective of life. Every day you may have ice cream in your hand, or you’re stepping in faces, it depends on your focus. The car door is open; you don’t have to ask to come in. Be willing to break all the rules while being open to experiences.” A beautiful documentary filled with personal stories and traditions not to be missed. For more information or to find screenings of “Restoring Tomorrow” Please visit:

Director: Aaron Wolf Producer/Cinematographer: Tim Nuttall Co-Producer: Simon Carmody
Star: Aaron Wolf
Howling Wolf Production

‘Last Call at Murray’s’ Music Video

“Last Call at Murray’s” is a wonder-filled allegorical tale that takes place in what could be called an average man’s “purgatory”; the local bar. Cleverly written by Brian Beatty, Betsy Morris, and insightfully directed by Linda Palmer, this is a film you will want to watch over and over again. “Last Call at Murray’s” has so many levels of truth about our human condition, joys, fears, regrets, and hopes layered beneath its surface and each character of the magnificent ensemble delivers them with “straight pocket” accuracy.

Murray’s is a small town mountain bar whose clientele has dwindled. A no smoking ordinance has recently been established in the town to boot. Ergo, it is time for Murray’s to close and tonight will be its final “last call.” But as a man makes plans, sometimes the mysterious Jackalope steps in to shake things up a bit. On Murray’s last night, a blizzard blows in and shuts the town down. The few regulars and several nearby travelers who happen into Murray’s bar for safety will have to get more than cozy till the storm passes. These quarantined characters are now forced to wait-it-out, and while doing so, a comical yet heartwarming purging ensues as one helps another to reach a new understanding in this one-night “purgatory” of self-discovery.

The major appeal of “Last Call at Murray’s ” is in the multidimensional, simple yet complicated, juxtaposition of stereotypes. You can’t assume anything here. Not only are the characters diverse, each character’s journey thoroughly explores the emotional territory of their current social state, allowing for unilateral change. In this grownup playground of group therapy and mid-life subjects, there is plenty of adult humor, sexual innuendo, karaoke, and moral resolve to go around. The mixture of comedy and tragedy along with the many metaphors buried within will at times make your jaw drop unexpectedly; brilliant! By the time the storm passes over, much may be clarified. We love these characters and the actors who play them.

“Last Call at Murray’s” would make a great series if it were not the last call.
For a full review of “Last Call at Murray’s” Please go to:

Rated R: for Language and adult situations.

Director: Linda Palmer
Writers: Brian Beatty, Betsy Morris
Stars: Michael Gross, John Savage, Paula Jai Parker


What if a scientist developed the ability to travel back in time to the past and inform his future? In “Variable”, a short sci-fi thriller, Dr. Thomas Gibson ( Maurice Whitfield) rushes back from the future to help himself avoid catastrophic life events. Although this short did not win the award as Best Short, it is done well and worth the watch. Director/Writer, Chris Valenziano, keeps the action knuckle tight. With a bit more out-of-the-box creativity and closer attention to detail, “Variable” could develop into a competitive sci-fi feature. As for Maurice Whitfield and his leading man performance – remember his name.
Director: Chris Valenziano
Writer: Chris Valenziano
Stars: Emily Roche, Luke Whitfield, Maurice Whitfield

‘The Kitchenistas of National City’

“The Kitchenistas of National City”, is the documentary short that chronicles the efforts of mothers, grandmothers, and granddaughters on a mission to save the lives in their community by changing the way traditional meals are prepared. These women have decided to combat the out of control epidemic of chronic disease, growing obesity, and diabetes in their community. A program called Cooking for Saulud! at the Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City, California, is one of the pioneer non for profit organizations invested in improving the health of communities one cook at a time. Through the program a small group of women learn over several weeks how to make the choices and small changes necessary to traditional meals that will lead their families towards better health. When they graduate the program they are then called Kitchenistas. The growing group of Kitchenistas proceed to teach and spread the techniques and information learned- helping to change the community toward better health through nutrition thus reversing the trends of disease. Using Hippocrates wisdom, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”, the joy on the faces of the women who graduate the program shines through the screen and warms the heart with hope.

For more information about “Cooking For Saulud!”, “The Kitchenistas of National City” and the work they do, or to donate to the cause, please visit:

Director: Mary Ann Beyster

‘Cuddle Party’

Once upon a time, deeply in love, they are now “that couple” who fight each other at every turn. Drew (Rob Huebel) and Jane (Michaela Watkins) have had it and are now ready for divorce. They decide to make a last ditch effort to fix their marriage by exploring intimacy – baby steps. The chosen therapy – going to a cuddle party. The leader of the cuddle party, played perfectly by comedian Yvette Nicole Brown, uses every facilitator’s therapeutic technique, short of making them stand in a corner, to give the couple the help they so desperately need while not letting the pair disrupt the other cuddle- couples. Of course the troubled and perfectly cast pair can only agree on one thing: how they are so much better than the people who have come to the cuddle party. “Cuddle Party” is laugh out loud sardonic humor. Well-written, shot, and acted. A good watch.

Director: Matthew Irving Epstein
Writer: Matthew Irving Epstein
Stars: Yvette Nicole Brown, Rob Huebel, Michaela Watkins

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