Menifee Documentary Film Festival Set for December

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Caption: Roger Schultz, MSJC president; Laura Badillo, executive director of Santa Rosa Academy; Daphne Barak, Festival chairwoman; James Cullen Bressack, director; Allison Stoner, actress; Erin Sanders, actress; Cody Saintgnue, actor; Drew Davis, producer; Bill Gunasti, Festival president; Scott Mann, Menifee mayor.
Posted by Doug Spoon
MENIFEE 24/7

Founders of the project announced Monday the creation of a major film festival designed to become a signature event for Menifee and compete with the likes of the Sundance Film Festival and other documentary film festivals around the world.

The ambitious project is the Documentary Film Festival at Menifee, scheduled for Dec. 7-11. It is the result of a connection made by Menifee Mayor Scott Mann with internationally known documentary filmmaker Daphne Barak and her business partner, Bill Gunasti.

Barak (left) has produced documentary works based on at-home interviews with such celebrities as Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson and Hillary Clinton for network television shows including “60 Minutes” and “48 Hours”. Her 2010 documentary “Saving Amy” chronicled the life of singer Amy Winehouse and her battles with addiction.

Barak and Gunasti live in Palm Springs, from where they travel around the world for documentary projects. When first approached by Mann about creating a major film festival for Menifee, Barak said she was intrigued by the possibility of bringing such an event to Southern California.

“Scott would like this to be like a magnet, where people are attracted to come here,” Barak said at a press conference held at Santa Rosa Academy. “I told him it must be something where I can be connected to the participants. Then Bill and I said, ‘What about local students, filmmakers who have a dream?’ ”

That conversation developed into a project Barak and Gunasti are confident will attract worldwide attention as well as educating youth in the industry of filmmaking. The festival will feature documentaries that are submitted from veteran filmmakers across the country and around the world, but there will also be a category for youth and those attempting such a project for the first time.

The first year of the festival will feature activities on two school campuses — Santa Rosa Academy and Mt. San Jacinto College. Visitors will roam the grounds to view documentaries on outdoor screens as well as inside the MSJC Theater and the new gymnasium at Santa Rosa. Categories will include short films (up to 15 minutes), medium films (up to 35 minutes) and full-length features.

These will be judged by international judges and support will be given by Hollywood actors, directors and producers, said Gunasti.

One of the first questions on the minds of reporters in attendance was, of course: Why Menifee?

“It’s centrally located in Southern California,” Mann said. “It’s one hour from L.A., one hour from the beaches and one hour from San Diego. There are 750,000 people within a 10-mile radius of here. And what better way to showcase the city? This will showcase our town and showcase the arts.”

Gunasti (right) said they have already received submissions from Europe and China.

“This will help put Menifee on the map and give the city another signature event,” he said.

Even though the founders of the event expect it to draw filmmakers and enthusiasts from around the world, this is about more than being a showcase for a worldwide audience. Barak and Gunasti plan to involve the youth of Menifee as interns in promoting the project and developing their own documentaries. Introduced Monday was a youth board of five young Hollywood producers, directors and actors who will work with young people who register online to participate.

There also are negotiations to offer students college course credit at Mt. San Jacinto College, which has an active theater program, said President Roger Schultz.

“We’re excited about this visionary event for our area,” Schultz said. “We’re always looking for ways to hook our students up with people in the film industry. Here they will be interacting with Hollywood stars. We hope this will lead to some opportunities for our students.”

Laura Badillo, executive director of Santa Rosa Academy, introduced three students who already are serving as interns in the program.

“The skills they gain through these types of experiences add to their education,” she said.

Alyson Stoner, a young actress attending the press conference, said she is excited about working with local youth in the program, which will include master classes and workshops.

“To be able to use my platform to inspire someone is special, and then to hear it’s with the youth is very exciting,” she said.

The festival will include a red carpet, awards ceremony, mayor’s cocktail reception and other special events. More information will be announced soon.