2nd annual Tahoe Film Fest has strong turnout, noted as big success | SierraSun.com

2nd annual Tahoe Film Fest has strong turnout, noted as big success

Kayla Anderson | Special to the Bonanza
Travis Tope, Gerardo Soto, Robert Roussel, Roland Emmerich, Reynaldo Pacheco and Maria Conchita Alonso at the Robin Williams Tribute held at the Crystal Bay Club.
Courtesy Robert Roussel |

It’s not every day that you can watch a movie in Incline Village Cinema and be in the same row as the director, producer and main actor.

But this is exactly what happened at the screening of “Ruta Madre” during the Dec. 1-4 Tahoe Film Fest.

In four full days, North Lake Tahoe residents, visitors and movie aficionados were treated to 22 American independent and environmental films, along with special screenings and parties at the cinemas in Incline and at Northstar California, as well the North Tahoe Event Center.

Several directors, producers, actors and other people flew in from New York and Los Angeles, making special appearances throughout the weekend. There seemed to be consistent attendance every day throughout the film fest, and everyone appeared to be having a good time.

To kick off the second annual Tahoe Film Fest, the movie “Certain Women” screened at Incline Village Cinema. About 50 people went to opening night, and the movie was introduced by Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP) Project Director Ashley Phillips.

“All of the proceeds of this film festival go to SWEP, which is an organization dedicated to environmental projects and watershed, teaching students about Tahoe and connecting them to nature,” Phillips said. “With the concern for the environment and climate change, we feel that the solution is really to connect people.”

Making its debut at this year’s Sundance Festival and released to the public in October by IFC Films, “Certain Women” stars Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams. This movie — set in rural Montana — tells the stories of women with failing or complicated relationships and how they deal with them. Although the movie progressed at a pretty slow pace, there were some funny moments, especially with Jared Harris playing a lawyer’s volatile client.

Although I didn’t stay for the next film, titled “Landfill Harmonic,” I heard that it was one of the highlights of the festival. “Small Apartments” and “A Man Called Ove” also seemed to be festival favorites.

On Saturday, I wandered over to Northstar Village Cinema to check out “The Last Laugh.”

Exploring comedians’ sensitivity toward the Holocaust and the survivors/Jewish community’s reactions, director Ferne Pearlstein talks with comics including Mel Brooks, Jeff Ross, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli and more about where they draw the line.

It was thought-provoking, fresh and showed interesting perspectives in the eyes of comedians of what they consider to be in “bad taste.”

I then dipped into “When Two Worlds Collide” during a part when dead bodies of Peruvian policemen were being loaded up in a truck.

This complicated and tragic true story tells of the conflict between indigenous Amazonian leaders and Peru President Alan Garcia in an effort to restore (or destroy) Amazon rainforests.

Over at the Incline Village Cinema was the screening of “Ruta Madre,” a story of a young American who travels to Mexico with his uncle to reconnect with his family roots. Introducing the film was director Augustin Castaneda and main actor David Castro.

Castro called the film a “dramedy” that was based on a true story. Castaneda added that he was “fortunate to have great actors from both sides of the border” in making the film.

“Ruta Madre” was preceded by a special screening of “I.O.C”, a portrait of a teenager of the hours leading up to shooting up his high school.

The audience is taken through the frightening inner dialogue of the teenager, played by Travis Tope (who also starred in Independence Day). This 14-minute short packed a poignant punch that ended with important statistics emphasizing how common school shootings are in modern times.

“I.O.C” was filmed in one take with no cuts or edits and amazing drone photography. Director Gerardo Soto and Travis Tope introduced the film.

Following “Ruta Madre,” moviegoers headed over the Robin Williams Tribute at the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room. Popcorn adorned the tables and guests enjoyed light appetizers with names like “Mork and Minty.”

Tahoe Film Fest attendees laughed at movie clips starring Robin Williams that spanned his career, and afterward the folks at my table told stories of their own experiences seeing Robin Williams when he visited Lake Tahoe.

On the final day of the Tahoe Film Fest, “Before the Flood” played at Northstar Village Cinema as the closing movie. Presented by National Geographic, “Before the Flood” touches on a topic that’s close to home — the threat of climate change and its dooming impact on Earth.

In this environmental documentary, Leonardo DiCaprio goes on expeditions through the Arctic and other parts of the world to uncover the truth on climate change and global warming.

Meeting with world leaders such as Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama, DiCaprio shares his own story of his interest in the environment and what we can do to stop further damage.

Following the “Before the Flood” screening, Incline Village resident Chris Early said the film was, “amazing, scary, frightening. Climate change has been an issue that hasn’t seemed to be all that serious before, but now that has totally changed.”

South Lake Tahoe resident Lauren Gresh added, “It’s depressing. I want to be optimistic, but I don’t see us making that kind of change in time.”

She remembers when she moved to Lake Tahoe in 1995 when winters seemed to be a lot stronger than they are now.

“Lately, I’ve noticed that the winters aren’t as cold as they used to be,” she adds.

Following “Before the Flood”, guests were treated to the SWEP Gala and silent auction at Northstar.

Throughout the Tahoe Film Fest, SWEP staff and volunteers gave much accreditation to Robert Roussel for organizing a lot of four-day event.

Although extremely modest about it, Roussel splits his time between New York and Lake Tahoe and has over two decades worth of experience in the film industry and organizing movie festivals.

“We started working on this since last January,” Roussel says. “(Putting on a festival) is like a movie; you have the pre-production, getting the films, inviting guests, securing venues, and once the festival begins it’s like you’re actually making the movie.”

“My favorite part is the fact that it’s been a big success; the films have been really well attended and I got complimented a lot on the programming,” adds Roussel.

He added that he’s wanted to organize an environmental film festival for quite some time and is looking forward to making next year’s Tahoe Film Fest bigger and better.

Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Email her at kaylaanderson1080@gmail.com.

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