Yes, We Cannes

San Diego Film Festival
WHEN: September 28-October 2
WHERE: Films at Reading Gaslamp Theaters, 701 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp; awards show and gala at the Culy Warehouse, 335 6th Ave., Gaslamp
TICKETS: $12 per film or $65 festival pass; party admission extra
VIP PASS: $250, grants pass-holder access to all films (with reserved seating), after-parties and invitations to private filmmaker meet-and-greets
INFO: sdff.org

By Alyson Baker

Buzzing with celebs and swanky after-parties, the San Diego Film Festival (SDFF) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. On-screen at the SDFF will be 85 high-caliber features, documentaries and shorts. Off-screen, attendees will enjoy nearly the same access-and treatment-as the moviemakers and shakers themselves.

Held September 28 through October 2 at the Reading Gaslamp Theatres downtown, the festival includes question-and-answer sessions with actors and directors after 90 percent of screenings. After the Q&As, movie-watchers will have the chance to rub elbows with celebs at local after-parties.(Rumor has it star sightings will include Twilight film actress Anna Kendrick and actors Tom Sizemore, Stacy Keach and Elliott Gould.)

"The festival provides a unique opportunity to see films you might not otherwise get to see," says SDFF founder and executive director, Robin Laatz. "We have a lot of new and exciting themes this year."

A committee of 15 began viewing the roughly 1,200 film submissions in January, whittling the selection to a final roster by August.

"It's really just finding the gems, great films you won't see publicized, (including) some of the best films from Sundance, Tribeca and Palm Springs," Laatz says. "In our lineup is something for everybody, whether you love surfing, dancing or you're concerned about what's going on in Africa."

This year's movie highlights range from the opening night film, 50/50, the comedic story of a 27-year old cancer patient's struggle with his diagnosis (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt , Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick), to Holy Rollers, a documentary about card-counting Christians, shot in San Diego and Las Vegas.

A stirring addition to SDFF's Green Screen series, the award-winning documentary, The Last Mountain (featuring Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) depicts the struggles of an Appalachian community battling a behemoth mining corporation.

"We kind of bring those issues to San Diego," Laatz says. "There's a lot of discussion about social activism and what you can do on the ground here."

Fingers Crossed
Christians pray for luck while gambling

Holy Rollers is a documentary about the largest and most well-funded blackjack card-counting team in the U.S., the "Church Team."

Intrigued by the story of these Christian card sharks (and the potential to invest in their scheme), director Bryan Storkel seeks to break down false assumptions about card-counting and expose the human face behind the organization.

The Church Team members-mostly 20- and 30-somethings-cite different motives for joining the cause, including hatred for casinos. One member claims casinos "suck the goodness out of the world," while a young pastor says being on the team gives him the funds and free time to start his own church and spread the word (flexible work hours and fat rewards don't hurt, either).

It's not all fun and games, however. Spiritual and financial conflicts arise as team members grapple with their faith after a losing streak.

"That's a big part of the film," Storkel says. "It's very up and down. You can lose $100,000 or win $100,000 in a day."
And...Seen

Look for (or like) celebs at these SDFF after-parties
Opening Night Party: September 28 at Se San Diego Hotel
Filmmaker Social: September 29 at Quality Social
Industry Party: September 30 at AIRR Supper Club and Night Club
Awards Ceremony: October 1 at Culy Warehouse
Wrap Party: October 2 at Lincoln Room

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